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An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

VIEWS: 712 PAGES: 849

This is a great book about JFK. It is well written and shows that although a great many people would argue, JFK was very close to being a total failure as President. It shows the development of his many ailments how he hid them from the electorate and became President. He fumbled along through crisis after crisis until he hit a home run during the Cuban missle crisis. But his works mean much more to the country then he deeds. He inspired the country to move to great great things which is where he eventually finds his greatness, with after his assassination LBJ adopting and enlarging his views on space exploration,civil rights etc.

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Also by Robert Dallek
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times,
Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of
American Presidents
Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times,
The Great Republic: A History of the American People,
Volume 2 (with Bernard Bailyn, David B. Davis,
David H. Donald, John L. Thomas, and
Gordon S. Wood)
Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism
The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and
Foreign Affairs
Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy,
Democrat and Diplomat: The Life of William E. Dodd
 John F. Kennedy

 RO B E R T              DA L L E K

 Boston   New York   London
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Dallek

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means,
including information storage and retrieval systems, without
permission in writing from the publisher, except by a review-
er who may quote brief passages in a review.

First eBook Edition: May 2003

ISBN 0-7595-9857-6

Little, Brown and Company
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Visit our web site at
To Len and Myra Dinnerstein, Larry Levine, and
Dick Weiss — forty-seven years of fond memories —
and to Jeff Kelman — my instructor in medicine

  Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
  And say my glory was I had such friends.
     — William Butler Yeats

Preface    ix

PA R T O N E    Growing Up

          CHAPTER 1     Beginnings                     3

          CHAPTER 2     Privileged Youth              26

          CHAPTER 3     The Terrors of Life           69

PA R T T W O    Public Service

          CHAPTER 4     Choosing Politics             111

          CHAPTER 5     The Congressman               134
          CHAPTER 6     The Senator                   177

PA R T T H R E E   Can a Catholic Become President?

          CHAPTER 7     Nomination                    229

          CHAPTER 8     Election                      267
                              viii   #   Contents

PA R T F O U R   The President

          CHAPTER 9      The Torch Is Passed            299
          CHAPTER 10     The Schooling of a President   328

          CHAPTER 11     A World of Troubles            373

          CHAPTER 12     Crisis Manager                 415

          CHAPTER 13     Reluctant Warrior              442

          CHAPTER 14     The Limits of Power            470

          CHAPTER 15     Frustrations and “Botches”     504
          CHAPTER 16     To the Brink — And Back        535

          CHAPTER 17     New Departures:
                         Domestic Affairs               575
          CHAPTER 18     New Departures:
                         Foreign Affairs                607

          CHAPTER 19     An Unfinished Presidency        631

          EPILOGUE                                      703

Acknowledgments         713
Sources    717
Notes     719
Bibliography      807
Index 815

Why another Kennedy book? I was asked repeatedly during the
five years I worked on this biography. The availability of new materi-
als — written contemporary documents, telephone and Oval Office
tapes, and entire oral histories or parts thereof — seemed ample rea-
son to revisit Kennedy’s personal and public lives. I also took guidance
from science writer Jacob Bronowski: “Ask an impertinent question
and you are on your way to a pertinent answer.” As I worked my way
through the records, I was startled by how many fresh things could
be said based on the combination of old and new files about the
man, his family, and his political career. To cite just a few examples,
new documents reveal more clearly the cause of the accident that
killed Joseph Kennedy Jr. in World War II, how Bobby Kennedy
became attorney general in 1960, and what JFK thought of U.S. mil-
itary chiefs, their plans for an invasion of Cuba, the American press
corps in Saigon, and the wisdom of an expanded war in Vietnam.
     As with all our most interesting public figures, Kennedy is an
elusive character, a man who, like all politicians, worked hard to
emphasize his favorable attributes and hide his limitations. He and
those closest to him were extraordinarily skillful at creating positive
images that continue to shape public impressions. My objective has
not been to write another debunking book (these have been in
ample supply in recent years) but to penetrate the veneer of glamour
and charm to reconstruct the real man or as close to it as possible.
The result is not a sharply negative portrait but a description of
                             x   #   Preface

someone with virtues and defects that make him seem both excep-
tional and ordinary — a man of uncommon intelligence, drive, disci-
pline, and good judgment on the one hand, and of lifelong physical
suffering and emotional problems on the other. I have not empha-
sized one aspect over the other but have tried to bring them into
balance. Learning, for example, a great deal more than any biogra-
pher has previously known about Kennedy’s medical history allowed
me to see not only the extent to which he hid his infirmities from
public view but also the man’s exceptional strength of character. In
addition, I have tried to understand his indisputable womanizing,
including previously unknown instances of his compulsive philan-
dering. More significant, I have ventured answers to questions about
whether his health problems and behavior in any way undermined
his performance of presidential duties.
     I have also tried to judiciously assess the negative and positive
family influences on his character, the record of his navy service,
his House and Senate careers, and, most important, his presidential
policies on the economy, civil rights, federal aid to education, health
insurance for seniors, and poverty, and, even more consequentially,
on dealings with Russia, nuclear weapons, space, Cuba, and Viet-
nam. I have not hesitated to say what I believe Kennedy might have
done about the many ongoing problems certain to have faced him
in a second term, however open to question these conclusions may
be. “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle
a question without debating it,” said Joseph Joubert, a French philo-
sopher of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
     I believe this biography provides the most authoritative discus-
sion to date on Kennedy the man and his political career. Nonethe-
less, however much it may be a significant advance in understanding,
I have no illusion that I am recording the last word on John F.
Kennedy. The economist Thorstein Veblen was surely right when he
cautioned that “the outcome of any serious research can only be to
make two questions grow where one question grew before.” Add to
this the man’s almost mythical importance to Americans and hun-
dreds of millions of people around the globe and you can be certain
that future generations will be eager for renewed attention to him in
the context of their own times.

  February 2003

     Growing Up
     Every man had to test himself, and if he was courageous
     and lucky he found maturity. That was all the reward
     you could ask for, or were entitled to: growing up.
       — Ward Just, The Translator (1991)

       George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed
       up an approach to life: . . . “I dream things that never
       were — and I say: Why not?”
          — John F. Kennedy before the Irish Parliament, June 28, 1963

IN AUGUST 1947, John F. Kennedy traveled to Ireland. The trip was
notable for several reasons. Kennedy was first and foremost a “good
New Englander,” an American — so said the Irish ambassador to the
United States — who had all but lost his connection to the old
country. Indeed, recalling how often Jack Kennedy had visited En-
gland in the 1930s and early 1940s without going to Ireland, the
ambassador archly described Kennedy as “an English American.”
“Many people made much of his Irish ancestry,” one of Kennedy’s
English friends said. But he was “a European . . . more English than
Irish.” Now, at long last, he was going home. That was not, however,
how his father saw it. For Joseph Patrick Kennedy, whose drive for
social acceptance shadowed most of what he did, being described
as an “Irishman” was cause for private rage. “Goddamn it!” he once
sputtered after a Boston newspaper identified him that way. “I was
born in this country! My children were born in this country! What
the hell does someone have to do to become an American?”
     But his son had if not formed a deep emotional attachment, at
least taken his cue from his mother’s father, John F. Fitzgerald.
“There seems to be some disagreement as to whether my grandfather
Fitzgerald came from Wexford, Limerick or Tipperary,” Kennedy
would later recall. “And it is even more confusing as to where my
great[-]grandmother came from — because her son — who was the
Mayor of Boston — used to claim his mother came from whichever
                    4   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Irish county had the most votes in the audience he was addressing at
that particular time.” And indeed, when the twenty-nine-year-old
had first run for Congress the year before, Irish Americans in his dis-
trict had been hesitant to support Kennedy because of his lack of
ethnic identification, let alone pride.
     Officially, Kennedy was on a fact-finding mission to study the
potential workings of the Marshall Plan in a Europe still reeling from
the devastation wrought by the Second World War. Unofficially, it
was a chance to relax with Kathleen Kennedy Hartington, Jack’s
favorite younger sister, who was even more “English American” than
he was. Though her husband, William Cavendish Hartington, who
was in line to become the next duke of Devonshire, had died in the
war, Kathleen had stayed in England, where the Devonshires treated
her with fond regard. They gave her free run of their several great
estates, including Lismore Castle in southern Ireland’s County Water-
ford, a twelfth-century mansion once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh.
Kathleen called it the “most perfect place” in the world.
     Kathleen asked Jack to join her for a vacation at Lismore, where
she promised to bring him together with former Foreign Secretary
Anthony Eden; Pamela Churchill, the divorced wife of Winston’s
son, Randolph; and other prominent English social and political
lions. “Anthony Eden arrives today,” Kathleen wrote an American
friend, “so by the end of the week he and Jack will have fixed up the
state of the world.”
     Like Kathleen, Jack Kennedy had been schooled to move com-
fortably in privileged circles. Jack and Kathleen did not think of
themselves as anything but American aristocrats. Wit, charm, and
intelligence added to the cachet he carried as a congressman and the
son of one of America’s wealthiest entrepreneurs who himself was a
former ambassador to Britain.
     Yet those who met John Kennedy for the first time in 1947
found little assurance in his appearance. Though having passed his
thirtieth birthday in the spring, he looked like “a college boy,” or at
best a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in political science. He contributed
to the impression with his casual attire, appearing sometimes on the
House floor in khaki pants and a rumpled seersucker jacket with a
shirttail dangling below his coat or in the House cafeteria line in
sweater and sneakers. At six feet and only 140 pounds, his slender
body, gaunt and freckled face, and full head of tousled brown hair
made him seem younger than his thirty years. Even when he dressed
                      An Unfinished Life    #   5

in formal suits, which was not often, it did not make him look older
or like a congressman. “He wore the most godawful suits,” Mary
Davis, his secretary, said. “Horrible looking, hanging from his frame.”
Unlike so many members of the House who self-consciously dressed
the part, Kennedy reflected his sense of entitlement in his informal
dress. But it did not encourage an impression of maturity, and it was
difficult for most colleagues to take him seriously. He initially struck
veteran congressmen as the son of a famous family who had inher-
ited his office rather than earned it. Sometimes he didn’t impress
them at all. “Well, how do you like that?” he asked his congressional
office staff one morning. “Some people got into the elevator and
asked me for the fourth floor.” During his first week in the House, a
veteran congressman who mistook him for a page demanded a copy
of a bill until Jack informed the astonished member that they were
     Nevertheless, he offended almost no one. Although he conveyed
a certain coolness or self-control, his radiant smile and genuine
openness made him immediately likable. “The effect he has on
women voters was almost naughty,” New York Times columnist James
Reston later wrote. “Every woman either wants to mother him or
marry him.” Another columnist saw something in his appearance
that suggested “to the suggestible that he is lost, stolen or strayed —
a prince in exile, perhaps, or a very wealthy orphan.”
     A visit to New Ross, a market town on the banks of the Barrow
River fifty miles east of Lismore, filled some of Jack’s time in Ire-
land. Kathleen, who spent the day playing golf with her guests, did
not join him. Instead, Pamela Churchill, whom Jack asked “rather
quietly, rather apologetically,” went along. They drove for five hours
in Kathleen’s huge American station wagon over rutted roads along
Ireland’s scenic southeastern coast before reaching the outskirts of
the town.
     New Ross was not casually chosen. As they approached, with
only a letter from his aunt Loretta, his father’s sister, to guide him,
Jack stopped to ask directions to the Kennedy house. (“Which
Kennedys will it be that you’ll be wanting?” the man replied.) Jack
tried a little white farmhouse on the edge of the village with a front
yard full of chickens and geese. A lady surrounded by six kids, “look-
ing just like all the Kennedys,” greeted him with suspicion. After
sending for her husband, who was in the fields, the family invited
Jack and Pamela for tea in their thatched-roof cottage with a dirt
                    6   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

floor. Though Pamela was impressed with the family’s simple dignity,
she compared the visit to a scene from Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco
    Jack believed that he had discovered his third cousins and
seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly. Asking if he could do anything
for them, the cousins proposed that he “drive the children around
the village in the station wagon,” which he did to their pleasure and
his. For her part, Pamela clearly did not understand “the magic of
the afternoon.” Neither did Kathleen, who was angry when Jack re-
turned late for dinner. “Did they have a bathroom?” she asked
    The successful striving of her great-grandparents, grandparents,
and parents — the unceasing ambition of the Fitzgeralds and the
Kennedys — had catapulted the family into another realm, an ocean
and a century apart from the relatives left behind in Ireland. In
America anything was possible — the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys
were living proof. For most of the family, these Kennedys of New
Ross were something foreign, something best ignored or forgotten.
But not for Jack.

ancestors. He knew that his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had
come to East Boston during the great potato famines of the late
1840s, worked as a cooper making wagon staves and whiskey bar-
rels, married Bridget Murphy, and fathered three daughters and a
son before he died of cholera in 1858 when only thirty-five.
     Jack also knew that his great-grandfather on his mother’s side,
Thomas Fitzgerald, had clung to his farm in Ireland until 1854,
when the famine drove him to America as well. Initially settling in
Acton, twenty-five miles west of Boston, his impoverishment as a
farmer forced him to take up life in Boston’s North End Irish ghetto,
a crowded slum of wooden tenements. One contemporary described
it as a “dreary, dismal” desolate world in which all was “mean, nasty,
inefficient [and] forbidding,” except for the Catholic Church, which
provided spiritual comfort and physical beauty.
     In 1857 Thomas married Rosanna Cox, with whom he had twelve
children — nine of whom reached maturity, an amazing survival
rate in a time when infant mortality was a common event. Thomas,
who lived until 1885, surviving Rosanna by six years, prospered first
as a street peddler of household wares and then in a grocery busi-
                       An Unfinished Life    #   7

ness, which doubled as a North End tavern in the evenings. Income
from tenements he bought and rented to Irish laborers made his
family comfortable and opened the way to greater success for his off-
     The limits of Jack’s knowledge about his Irish relatives was partly
the result of his parents’ upward mobility and their eagerness to
replace their “Irishness” with an American identity. Rose Fitzgerald
Kennedy, Jack’s mother, took pains to instill American values in the
children, ignoring their Irish roots and taking them to the storied
landmarks of the country’s Revolutionary past around Boston. This
attitude differed little from that of other ethnic groups, who tried to
meet the demands of being an American by forgetting about their
Old World past, but in stratified Boston it took on special meaning.
Rose and Joe were understandably eager to insulate the family from
the continual snubs that Irish Americans suffered at the hands of local
Brahmins, well-off Protestant Americans whose roots went back to
the earliest years of the Republic. Although Rose and Joe enjoyed
privileged lives, their tangible sense of being outsiders in their native
land remained a social reality they struggled to overcome.
     The Boston in which Joe and Rose grew up was self-consciously
“American.” It was the breeding ground for the values and spirit that
had given birth to the nation and the center of America’s most
famous university where so many of the country’s most influential
leaders had been educated. Snobbery or class consciousness was as
much a part of the city’s landscape as Boston Common. Coming
from the wrong side of the tracks in most American cities was no
fixed impediment to individual success. But in Boston, where “the
Lowells speak only to the Cabots and the Cabots speak only to
God,” rising above one’s station was an enterprise for only the most
     What vivid sense of family history there was began with Jack’s
two grandfathers — Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John F. Fitzgerald,
both impressively successful men who achieved local fame and gave
their children the wherewithal to enjoy comfortable lives. Patrick
Joseph Kennedy was born in 1858, the year his father died. In an era
when no public support program came to the aid of a widow with
four children, Bridget Murphy Kennedy, Patrick’s mother, supported
the family as a saleswoman and shopkeeper. At age fourteen, P.J.,
as he was called, left school to work on the Boston docks as a steve-
dore to help support his mother and three older sisters. In the 1880s,
                    8   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

with money he had saved from his modest earnings, he launched a
business career by buying a saloon in Haymarket Square. In time, he
bought a second establishment by the docks. To capitalize on the
social drinking of upper-class Boston, P.J. purchased a third bar in
an upscale hotel, the Maverick House.
     With his handlebar mustache, white apron, and red sleeve
garters, the stocky, blue-eyed, red-haired P.J. cut a handsome figure
behind the bar of his taverns. By all accounts, he was a good listener
who gained the regard and even affection of his patrons. Before he
was thirty, his growing prosperity allowed him to buy a whiskey-
importing business, P. J. Kennedy and Company, that made him a
leading figure in Boston’s liquor trade.
     Likable, always ready to help less fortunate fellow Irishmen with
a little cash and some sensible advice, P.J. enjoyed the approval and
respect of most folks in East Boston, a mixed Boston neighborhood
of upscale Irish and Protestant elite. Beginning in 1884, he converted
his popularity into five consecutive one-year terms in the Massa-
chusetts Lower House, followed by three two-year terms in the state
senate. Establishing himself as one of Boston’s principal Democratic
leaders, he was invited to give one of the seconding speeches for
Grover Cleveland at the party’s 1888 national convention in St. Louis.
     But campaigning, speech making, and legislative maneuvering
were less appealing to him than the behind-the-scenes machinations
that characterized so much of Boston politics in the late-nineteenth
and early-twentieth centuries. After leaving the senate in 1895, P.J.
spent his political career in various appointive offices — elections
commissioner and fire commissioner — as the backroom boss of
Boston’s Ward Two, and as a member of his party’s unofficial Board
of Strategy. At board meetings over sumptuous lunches in room
eight of the Quincy House hotel near Scollay Square, P.J. and three
other power brokers from Charlestown and the South and North
Ends chose candidates for local and statewide offices and distributed
     There was time for family, too. In 1887 P.J. married Mary Augusta
Hickey, a member of an affluent “lace curtain” Irish family from the
upscale suburb of Brockton. The daughter of a successful business-
man and the sister of a police lieutenant, a physician with a Harvard
medical degree, and a funeral home director, Hickey had solidified
Kennedy’s move into the newly emerging Irish middle class, or as
legendary Boston mayor James Michael Curley mockingly called
them, “cut glass” Irish or FIFs (“First Irish Families”). By the time he
                      An Unfinished Life    #   9

died in 1929, P.J. had indeed joined the ranks of the cut-glass set,
holding an interest in a coal company and a substantial amount of
stock in a bank, the Columbia Trust Company. His wealth afforded
his family of one son, Joseph Patrick, and two daughters an attrac-
tive home on Jeffries Point in East Boston.
     John F. Fitzgerald was better known in Boston than P.J. and had
a greater influence on Jack’s life. Born in 1863, John F. was the
fourth of twelve children. As a boy and a young man, his father’s
standing as a successful businessman and his innate talents gained
him admission to Boston’s storied Latin School (training ground for
the offspring of the city’s most important families, including the
Adamses, John, John Quincy, and Henry), where he excelled at ath-
letics and compiled a distinguished academic record, graduating
with honors. Earning a degree at Boston College, the city’s Jesuit uni-
versity, John F. — or Johnnie Fitz or Fitzie, as friends called him —
entered Harvard Medical School in 1884. When his father died in
the spring of 1885, he abandoned his medical education, which had
been more his father’s idea than his own, to care for his six younger
brothers. Taking a job in the city’s Customs House as a clerk, he
simultaneously converted an affinity for people and politics into a
job as a secretary to Matthew Keany, one of the Democratic party’s
North End ward bosses.
     In 1891 Fitzie won election to a seat on Boston’s Common
Council, where he overcame resistance from representatives of more
affluent districts to spend $350,000 on a public park for his poor
North End constituents. The following year, when Keany died, Fitz-
gerald’s seven-year apprenticeship in providing behind-the-scenes
services to constituents and manipulating local power made him
Keany’s logical successor.
     He was a natural politician — a charming, impish, affable lover
of people who perfected the “Irish switch”: chatting amiably with
one person while pumping another’s hand and gazing fondly at a
third. His warmth of character earned him yet another nickname,
“Honey Fitz,” and he gained a reputation as the only politician who
could sing “Sweet Adeline” sober and get away with it. A pixielike
character with florid face, bright eyes, and sandy hair, he was a show-
man who could have had a career in vaudeville.
     But politics, with all the brokering that went into arranging
alliances and the hoopla that went into campaigning, was his call-
ing. A verse of the day ran: “Honey Fitz can talk you blind / on any
subject you can find / Fish and fishing, motor boats / Railroads,
                    10   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

streetcars, getting votes.” His gift of gab became known as Fitzblar-
ney, and his followers as “dearos,” a shortened version of his
description of his district as “the dear old North End.”
     Fitzgerald’s amiability translated into electoral successes. In 1892
he overcame internal bickering among the ward bosses to win elec-
tion to the state senate. Compiling a progressive voting record and a
reputation as an astute legislator eager to meet the needs of every
constituent, Fitzgerald put himself forward in 1894 for the only sure
Democratic congressional seat in Massachusetts, Boston’s Ninth Dis-
trict. His candidacy pitted him against his fellow bosses on the Strat-
egy Board, who backed incumbent congressman Joseph O’Neil.
Running a brilliant campaign that effectively played on suffering
caused by the panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression, Fitzger-
ald’s torchlight parades and promises of public programs produced
an unprecedented turnout. Also helped by a division among the
bosses, who responded to his candidacy by failing to unite against
him, the thirty-one-year-old Fitzgerald won a decisive primary victory.
     During three terms in Congress, Fitzgerald voted consistently
for measures serving local and statewide needs, for laws favoring
progressive income taxes over higher protective tariffs, and for a con-
tinuation of unrestricted immigration. Massachusetts’ senator Henry
Cabot Lodge, a tall slender Brahmin who, with his Vandyke beard
and courtly manner, could not have been more of a contrast to
Fitzgerald, once lectured the Irishman on the virtues of barring in-
ferior peoples — indigestible aliens — from corrupting the United
States. “You are an impudent young man,” Lodge began. “Do you
think the Jews or the Italians have any right in this country?” Fitzger-
ald replied: “As much right as your father or mine. It was only a dif-
ference of a few ships.”
     At the end of three terms as one of only three Catholics in the
House, Fitzgerald announced his decision not to run again. It was
a prelude to gaining the post he wished above all, mayor of Bos-
ton. During the next five years, while he waited for a favorable
moment to run, he prospered as the publisher of a local newspaper,
The Republic. Demonstrating a keen business sense, Fitzgerald sub-
stantially increased department-store advertising in his pages by run-
ning stories of special interest to women.
     One of the city’s leading political power brokers as the boss of
the North End’s Ward Six, despite having moved to Concord and
then Dorchester, Fitzgerald was in a strong position to become mayor
when the incumbent died in 1905. But another round of opposition
                      An Unfinished Life   #   11

from his fellow bosses, including P.J., put his election in doubt. In
response, he devised a shrewd anti-boss campaign that appealed to
current progressive antagonism to undemocratic machine politics.
Despite a bruising primary fight and another closely contested race
against a formidable Republican, Fitzgerald gained the prize, chant-
ing, “The people not the bosses must rule! Bigger, better, busier
Boston.” Within hours of winning the election, he showed up at P. J.
Kennedy’s East Boston office to say that there were no hard feelings
about P.J.’s opposition to him. It was, two family biographers later
said, “a first hurrah for the dynasty to come.”

HONEY FITZ HAD COMPLEMENTED his political and business suc-
cesses with marriage to his second cousin, Mary Josephine Hannon,
or Josie, as intimates called her. They had met first in Acton at the
Hannons’ farm in September 1878, when Fitzgerald was fifteen and
Josie thirteen. As he remembered it, he immediately fell in love with
the beautiful girl to whom he would be married for sixty-two years,
but Fitzgerald had to wait eleven years before Josie’s family put aside
their concerns about the consequences of having Josie marry a blood
relative, however distant. The union produced six children, three
sons and three daughters.
     The eldest of the Fitzgerald children, Rose Elizabeth, was Fitz’s
favorite. Praying for a daughter who might fulfill his dreams of win-
ning acceptance into polite society, Honey Fitz envisioned Rose’s life
as a storybook tale of proper upbringing and social acclaim. As Rose
later viewed it, her father succeeded: “There have been times when I
felt I was one of the more fortunate people in the world, almost as if
Providence, or Fate, or Destiny, as you like, had chosen me for spe-
cial favors.”
     From her birth in the summer of 1890, she led a privileged life.
When Rose was seven, Fitz and Josie moved the family to the Boston
suburb of West Concord, where Rose remembers “a big, old ram-
bling . . . wonderfully comfortable house” and the traditional pleas-
ures and satisfactions of life in a small New England town: “serenity,
order, family affection, horse-and-buggy rides to my grandparents’
nearby home, climbing apple trees, picking wild flowers.” There
was the excitement of a father coming home on weekends from
Washington, where, in Rose’s limited understanding, he was some-
thing called a “congressman” doing important things. Whatever her
sadness at his frequent absences, she remembered “the absolute
thrill” of driving to the Concord train station to meet him and his
                   12   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

affectionate greeting, with “a wonderful present” always pulled from
his bags. She also recalled a trip to the White House at age seven
with her father, where President William McKinley warmly greeted
them and gave her a carnation. “There was no one in the world like
my father,” she said. “Wherever he was, there was magic in the air.”
There were also the memories of the matched pair of beautiful black
horses that pulled the family carriage and of her own rig that at
twelve she began driving to the Concord library to borrow books.
     There were also the summers in Old Orchard Beach, Maine,
where Boston’s prominent Irish families would seek the pleasure of
one another’s company and relief from the heat. A beachfront
crowded with hotels, cottages, and gregarious folks strolling, sun-
ning themselves, swimming, fishing, shopping, playing cards, and
eating together in the Brunswick Hotel’s huge dining room, Old
Orchard was described as “the typical watering place for those who
detest the name of solitude.” Rose remembered the joy of playing
with other children and being surrounded by relatives and family
friends who “visited back and forth constantly.”
     In 1904, having grown affluent on the returns from The Republic,
the Fitzgeralds moved to suburban Dorchester, where their growing
family of three girls and two boys lived in a sprawling fifteen-room
house with a “scrollwork porch, mansard turret, and stained-glass
insert in the front door portraying what Fitzie insisted was the fam-
ily’s coat of arms.” Rose attended the Dorchester High School for
Girls and, like her proper Bostonian Beacon Hill counterparts,
rounded out her education with private lessons in French, dancing,
piano, and voice.
     Dorchester’s remove from the center of Boston allowed Fitz to
insulate Rose and the family from the rough-and-tumble politics of
his 1905 mayoral campaign. Though now fifteen, Rose had only “a
hazy idea of what was happening.” This was a good thing, for it was
a contest with much name-calling and ugly innuendoes about her
father’s private life and public dealings that would have offended
any loving daughter, especially one as starry-eyed as Rose.
     Rose’s sheltered life extended into her twenties. At seventeen, as
the mayor’s vivacious, intelligent daughter, Rose had become some-
thing of a Boston celebrity, in attendance at “all manner of political
and social events.” Wellesley was an ideal college choice for so tal-
ented and prominent a young woman: It represented the chance to
enter an exciting universe of intellectual and political discourse in
the country’s finest women’s college. But believing her too young
                      An Unfinished Life    #   13

and impressionable, Fitz enrolled her in an elite Catholic school,
Boston’s Convent of the Sacred Heart, where she received instruction
in deportment and feminine virtues promising to make her a model
wife and mother.
    At the close of Rose’s year in Sacred Heart, the Fitzgeralds took
their two eldest daughters on a grand European tour. Ostensibly, it
was to broaden the girls’ education. But Fitz, who had lost a reelec-
tion bid as mayor in 1907 and was under suspicion of lining his
pockets during his two-year term, saw the summer trip as a chance
to shield Rose and her sister Agnes from press coverage of his wrong-
doing. To keep them away from the unpleasant public gossip and
discourage a budding romance with Joseph Patrick Kennedy, P.J.’s
son, the child of a family with less social standing, Fitz also decided
to enroll Rose and Agnes for the 1908–09 academic year in a Sacred
Heart convent school in Holland. Attended mainly by the daughters
of French and German aristocrats and well-off merchant families, it
was a more cosmopolitan version of its Boston counterpart.
    After coming home in the summer of 1909, Rose took refuge
from the political wars with another year of schooling at the Sacred
Heart Convent in Manhattanville, New York. At the close of that
year, she returned to Boston ready to assume a large role in her
father’s second term, which ran from 1910 to 1912. With two small
children to care for and little patience for the duties of a political
first lady, Josie left the part to Rose, who filled it with a style and
grace reflecting her advantaged upbringing and education. She
became Honey Fitz’s constant “hostess-companion-helper,” traveling
with him to Chicago and Kansas on city business, to the Panama
Canal to consider its effect on Boston’s future as an international
trade center, to western Europe to advance Boston’s commerce with
its principal cities, to meet President William Howard Taft at the
White House, and to attend the 1912 Democratic National Conven-
tion in Baltimore that nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow
Wilson for president. As one biographer records: “Fitzgerald de-
lighted in the good looks of his daughter, in her intelligence, her
presence of mind and superb social skills. . . . She proved to be her
father’s equal in conversation, curiosity, dancing, athletic ability and
powers of endurance and even in the capacity for fascinating
reporters,” who gave her front-page coverage in Boston’s newspapers.
    Nothing more clearly marked Rose as a local leading light than
her coming-out party in January 1911. The state’s most prominent
figures were counted among the 450 guests in attendance. Even the
                   14   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

normal social barriers between Protestants and Catholics fell away
for the occasion: Massachusetts’ governor-elect, two congressmen,
Boston’s district attorney and city councilmen — who declared the
day a holiday — rubbed shoulders with wealthy and fashionable
bankers, businessmen, attorneys, physicians, and clergymen.
     By the conventions of the time, Rose’s debut at age twenty was a
prelude to courtship and marriage. She certainly did not lack for
suitors, but by accepted standards, they did not include Protestants.
The “mistrust” and “resentment” between Boston’s Brahmins and its
Irish Catholics caused them to have “as little as possible to do with
each other.” And even though her father had fostered better relations
by joining with Brahmin James Jackson Storrow to establish the
Boston City Club, a place where both sides could meet in “a neutral
and socially relaxed atmosphere,” Rose saw the divide as “one of
those elementary facts of life not worth puzzling about.” Besides,
there were enough eligible Catholic men who could measure up to
her status, including, she believed, P.J.’s son, Joe, whom she had
known almost her entire life and who impressed her — if not her
own father — as a most desirable mate.

DESPITE BOSTON’S CULTURAL DIVIDE, Joe, like Rose, had no sense
of inhibition about reaching the highest rungs of the country’s eco-
nomic and social ladders. His parents and their families had gained
material comforts and social standing that had put them in the
upper reaches of the American middle class. And like the business
titans of the late-nineteenth century — Diamond Jim Brady, Andrew
Carnegie, Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller —
whose backgrounds and middle-class beginnings had acted as no
bar to their acquisition of vast wealth and international fame, Joe
Kennedy could entertain similar dreams.
     Born in 1888, Joe grew up in an era when America’s greatest
heroes were daring entrepreneurs who not only enriched themselves
but greatly expanded the national wealth by creating the infrastruc-
ture of an industrial society — steel, cheap energy, railroads, and
financial instruments to grow the economy. Never mind that many
were left behind in the rush to affluence: The social Darwinian code
of the time, by which Joe was guided throughout his life, gave legiti-
macy to the view that the innately talented and virtuous succeeded
while the less deserving made only modest gains or fell by the way-
side. It was the natural order of things, and no sense of injustice
                     An Unfinished Life   #   15

need attach to wide gaps between the richest and poorest Americans.
Of course, there was nothing against the fortunate sharing some of
their largesse with needy Americans; indeed, the most well off were
obliged to help the least advantaged. But to impute any inhibition
on the accumulation of wealth from this obligation was never a part
of Joe’s outlook or that of other contemporary self-made men. As a
boy, Joe had an oak bookcase stacked with the works of Horatio
Alger Jr., which one of his sisters said he read avidly. Although
Alger’s stories were more attuned to the world of a rural pre–Civil
War America, his rags-to-riches theme held a constant appeal to
ambitious, up-and-about boys and young men like Joe Kennedy.
Similarly, “mind power,” or a belief in self-manipulation or success
through positive thinking, which began to have a strong hold on the
popular imagination at the turn of the century, captivated Joe. As he
made his way in the world, Joe never tired of reminding people that
anyone with God-given talents could figure out how to succeed; it
was largely a matter of will.
     As a teenager, Joe had already made clear that he was deter-
mined to rise above the ordinary. There were the usual things boys
did then to make a little money: sell newspapers on the docks and
candy and peanuts to tourists on a harbor excursion boat, light gas
lamps and stoves in the homes of Orthodox Jews on holy days,
deliver hats for a haberdasher, work as an office boy in his father’s
bank. But Joe had an urge to make money in a more inventive way.
At the age of fifteen, he organized a neighborhood baseball team,
the Assumptions. As the team’s business manager, coach, and first
baseman, he bought uniforms, rented a ball field, scheduled the
games, and collected enough money from spectators to make a
profit. When some of his teammates complained that he was too
domineering and that they had no say about anything, Joe made it
clear he didn’t care. There could be only one boss, and he would
settle for nothing less. Summing up his personal philosophy, Joe
told his sister: “If you can’t be captain, don’t play.”
     Because she believed that Joe was special, his mother decided to
use the family’s social standing and affluence to move her son from
East Boston’s Catholic Xaverian School to Boston Latin. It was not
unheard-of for aspiring Catholic families to seek and win admission
for a son to Boston Latin; Rose’s father had of course been a student
there in the 1870s. But when Joe attended the school in September
1901, the redheaded, freckled-faced, muscular thirteen-year-old Irish
                     16   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

kid from across the harbor was in a distinct minority among the
scions of Beacon Hill and Back Bay families.
     It did not stop Joe from making a special mark at the school.
Although he never stamped himself out as an especially good stu-
dent, he excelled in extracurricular activities and athletics, becoming
the colonel on a drill team that won a citywide competition, captain
of the baseball team, and in his senior year, the player with the city’s
highest high school batting average, for which he won the Mayor’s
Cup, presented by His Honor John F. Fitzgerald. Admired by his fel-
low students for his accomplishments on the diamond and for his
warm personality and loyalty to his friends, Joe was also elected
president of his senior class.
     Reflecting the drive and self-help outlook that dominated his
thinking, Joe later said that Boston Latin “somehow seemed to make
us all feel that if we could stick it out we were made of just a little bit
better stuff than the fellows our age who were attending what we
always thought were easier schools.” Joe’s self-assurance rested not
simply on the cultural milieu in which he grew to manhood but also
on the special affection that his parents had showered on him as
their only son and that his two sisters gave him as an adored elder
     After Boston Latin, in 1908 Joe moved on to Harvard, which, in
response to nationwide pressure for more institutional and political
democracy and less concentration of wealth and power, was ostensi-
bly committed to diversifying its student body. Yet old habits of
social stratification remained as intense as they had been in the
nineteenth century. Despite coming from Boston Latin, Joe had no
claim on social status at Harvard, where the “golden boys” from the
elite private schools such as Groton, St. Mark’s, and St. Paul’s, many
of them the sons of millionaires, arrived at the college with servants
and lived in luxurious residence halls with private baths, central
heating, swimming pools, and squash courts. Joe joined the less
affluent majority in drab, poorly heated dormitories with primitive
plumbing. Characteristically, he had no sense of fixed inferiority
from the sharp divisions he met at the university. Instead, he built a
congenial social world on friendships with former Boston Latin
classmates and ties to athletes, including some who came from the
elite circle closed to someone of Joe’s background. Within limits, Joe
gained a measure of acceptability that spoke volumes about his
potential for reaching heights not yet scaled by Boston’s Irish. In his
                      An Unfinished Life     #   17

sophomore year he and his closest friends became class leaders, serv-
ing on the student council, organizing all major class events, and
winning entrance into significant clubs such as the Institute of 1770,
the Dickey, and Hasty Pudding, which conferred high status on their
members. Yet admission to the innermost circle of student standing
through membership in the most prestigious clubs, such as Porcel-
lian and AD, was denied him. For such appointments, one’s pedi-
gree still made all the difference.
     On the ball field Joe had his frustrations as well. After making
the freshman baseball team, a number of injuries kept him from the
varsity until his junior year, and then another injury consigned him
to the bench through most of his senior year. Only when team cap-
tain and starting pitcher Charles McLaughlin asked the coach to put
Joe in the final Yale game did he manage to earn a coveted varsity
letter, and later stories that Joe’s father had arranged the substitution
by threatening to withhold a license McLaughlin wanted to operate
a movie theater in Boston diminished the accomplishment of hav-
ing gained the prize. Other accounts describing Joe’s refusal to give
McLaughlin the game ball, which Joe caught for the final out, further
tarnished his standing with classmates.
     Only in the realm of business did Joe have an unmitigated sense
of triumph while at Harvard. During the summers of his junior and
senior years, he and a friend bought a tour bus from a failing busi-
ness. Boldly approaching Mayor Fitzgerald for a license to operate
from a bus stand at South Station, the city’s choice location for such
an enterprise, Joe turned an unprofitable venture into a going con-
cern. With Joe acting as tour guide and his partner driving, they con-
verted a $600 investment into an amazing $10,000 gain over two
     After graduating in 1912, Joe decided on a career in banking, the
“basic profession” on which all other businesses depended, as Joe
put it. This was not the product of study in a Harvard economics or
business course. (He later enjoyed describing how he had to drop a
banking and finance course because he did so poorly in it.) Instead,
Joe came to this conclusion through keenly observing contemporary
American financial practices. That spring, congressional hearings had
described how the “astounding” power and influence of bankers
over the national economy gave anyone ambitious for wealth on a
grand scale a model to imitate. And Joe Kennedy was nothing if not
ambitious. Whereas progressives turned the power of the bankers
                    18   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

into a justification for democratizing reform, Joe saw it as a compet-
itive challenge. He wanted to be the first Irish American to penetrate
a preserve of some of Boston’s wealthiest and most prominent old-
school families.
     Harvard degree in hand, Joe became a clerk in his father’s
Columbia Trust. There, during the summer of 1912, he worked as an
apprentice under Alfred Wellington, the bank’s thirty-nine-year-old
treasurer. Recognizing that his pupil had uncommon talent and
ambition, Wellington urged him to become a state bank examiner as
a way to learn the essentials of the industry. After he passed the civil
service exam and was placed on a list of potential examiners, Joe
persuaded Mayor Fitzgerald to lobby the governor by pointing out
that the state had no Irish Catholic bank examiners. The political
pressure combined with Joe’s merits to win him an appointment.
For a year and a half he traveled around the state, learning the intri-
cacies of the industry and impressing senior executives as a brilliant
banker in the making.
     As a consequence, when a downtown Boston bank threatened a
takeover of Columbia Trust, Joe knew what he had to do to sustain
the autonomy of one of the city’s few Irish-owned financial institu-
tions: He needed to raise enough money to outbid the rival bank,
which had made an offer that a majority of stockholders wanted to
accept. He also knew that appeals to local pride could strengthen his
case. But money was key, and the president of the city’s mainline
Merchants National Bank, who saw a Columbia Trust run by Joe as a
good risk, provided it.
     Joe’s success on fending off the takeover won him, at age twenty-
five, the presidency of Columbia and taught him the advantages of
good publicity. Joe’s victory and appointment to Columbia’s top job
became the subject of local and national newspaper accounts that
grew in the telling. Encouraging — or at least not discouraging —
exaggeration with each reporter who came calling, Joe Kennedy went
from being the youngest bank president in Boston to the youngest
in the country to the youngest in the world, and the small neighbor-
hood Columbia magically became not a local depository but a
mainstay of the national banking industry. All the positive accounts
nearly doubled Columbia’s deposits and increased loans by more
than 50 percent during the three years Joe served as president. He
planned to be a millionaire by the age of thirty-five, he told a
reporter. At this rate, it seemed possible.
                      An Unfinished Life   #   19

                                * * *
IN THE SUMMER OF 1906, when Joe was eighteen and Rose sixteen,
the two fell in love. Except for Rose, who saw Joe as a complement in
every way to her life’s ambitions, the Fitzgeralds considered the
young man and his family a step down. And between 1906 and
1914 Honey Fitz had done all he could to discourage the courtship.
He forbade Rose from accompanying Joe to a Boston Latin dance or
the Harvard junior prom, and would not even allow Joe in the
Fitzgerald house. And, of course, Rose’s years in Holland and New
York were partly aimed at keeping Joe and Rose apart.
     But the attraction between Rose and Joe endured. They were
smitten with each other. “I was never seriously interested in anyone
else,” Joe later said. Rose was more effusive: She remembered the
young Joe Kennedy as “tall, thin, wiry, freckled,” with blue eyes and
red hair, “not dark red, orange red, or gold red, as some Irish have,
but sandy blond with a lot of red lights in it.” His “open and expres-
sive” face conveyed a “youthful dignity,” which bespoke self-reliance
and self-respect. He was serious, “but he had a quick wit and a
responsive sense of humor.” His “big, spontaneous, and infectious
grin . . . made everybody in sight want to smile, too.” They arranged
to meet at friends’ homes, always with “a responsible adult on the
premises.” And in 1914 the romance blossomed into promises of
marriage that Honey Fitz could no longer resist. Forced to abandon
another run for the mayor’s office by rumors of his affair with “Too-
dles” Ryan, a beautiful cigarette girl, Fitzgerald had lost enough pub-
lic standing to make Joe, the successful young banker, a worthy — or
at least tolerable — addition to the Fitzgerald family. After a four-
month engagement lasting from June to October 1914, Rose and Joe
were married in a relatively subdued ceremony in William Cardinal
O’Connell’s private chapel, followed by a wedding breakfast for
seventy-five guests at the Fitzgerald house. Fitz’s diminished stature
and a lingering reluctance about establishing ties with the Kennedys
made Rose’s matrimony a less celebrated event than her coming-out.
     In November the young couple, Joe twenty-six and Rose twenty-
four, moved into a comfortable two-and-a-half-story house on a
quiet tree-lined street in Brookline, a Boston Protestant enclave
made up of second- and third-generation lower-middle-class labor-
ers and middle-class professionals. The seven-room Kennedy house
on Beals Street, a gray wooden structure with clapboard siding, a
large porch, sloping roof, and dormer windows, put Joe $6,500 in
                    20   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

debt. The $2,000 personal loan and $4,500 mortgage was a heavy
financial burden, but Joe could not imagine a bank president living
in a rented apartment. Moreover, he had every confidence that he
was on an ascending financial trajectory that would allow him to
pay off his loans and entitled him and Rose to drive a new Model T
Ford, which he also bought with borrowed funds. A seven-dollar-a-
week maid who cooked, cleaned, laundered, and served meals was
also considered appropriate to their lifestyle.
     The following summer their first child was born at Nantasket
Beach in Hull, Massachusetts, where Joe rented a house next to his
in-laws. Two doctors, a trained nurse, and a housemaid attended the
birth of the nearly ten-pound boy. Though speculation was rife that
the child would be named after his maternal grandfather, John
Fitzgerald, Joe insisted that his firstborn son be christened Joseph
Patrick Jr. Despite Honey Fitz’s disappointment at not having his
first grandson named after him, he expected the boy to have an
extraordinary future: “He is going to be President of the United
States,” the ex-mayor told a reporter, “his mother and father have
already decided that he is going to Harvard, where he will play on
the football and baseball teams and incidentally take all the scholas-
tic honors. Then he’s going to be a captain of industry until it’s time
for him to be President for two or three terms. Further than that has
not been decided. He may act as mayor of Boston and governor of
Massachusetts for a while on his way to the presidential chair.”
Fitzgerald’s tongue-in-cheek description was the true word said in
jest: ambition and unlimited confidence were central features of the
Fitzgerald and Kennedy outlook.
     Less than two years later, the birth of Rose and Joe’s second child
was greeted with less fanfare. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a healthy boy
named after his irrepressible grandfather, came into the world on the
afternoon of May 29, 1917. Born in an upstairs bedroom in the
Beals Street home with the same contingent of doctors and helpers
as attended Joe Jr.’s birth, Jack, as the new baby was called, received
his first notice in the press from a proud grandfather “wearing a
pleased smile.” Against the backdrop of an America that had entered
the First World War, in which so many young men seemed certain to
die, predictions about Jack’s future were left unspoken.

THE SAME DAY Jack was born, his father was elected to the board of
the Massachusetts Electric Company, making him at twenty-eight
one of the youngest trustees of a major corporation in America. It
                      An Unfinished Life   #   21

was the start of Joe’s meteoric climb in the business world, which,
paradoxically, the war would serve. World War I, which millions of
Americans saw as an idealistic crusade to end national conflicts and
preserve democracy, elicited little enthusiasm from Joe. The idea of
sacrificing his life or that of any of his generation seemed absurd. He
was too cynical about human nature and Europe’s traditional strife
to believe that anything particularly good could come out of the
fighting. Though this put him at odds with most of his Harvard
friends, many of whom volunteered for military service, Joe saw
nothing to be gained personally or nationally by enlisting. The war,
he said, was a senseless slaughter that would ruin victor and van-
quished alike. Looking down at Joe Jr. in his crib after hearing the
news that tens of thousands of British troops had died in the unsuc-
cessful 1916 Somme offensive, Joe told Rose, “This is the only happi-
ness that lasts.”
     Joe’s response to the First World War set a pattern that would
repeat itself in other international crises faced by the United States.
Whereas he was more often than not brilliantly insightful about
domestic affairs, particularly the country’s economic prospects, Joe
consistently misjudged external developments. He understood world
problems not on moral or political grounds but rather on how he
felt they might inhibit his entrepreneurial ventures and, worse, cut
short his life or, later, that of his sons. These personal fears would
make him a lifelong isolationist.
     Joe’s rapid accumulation of wealth began with his departure
from the bank and appointment as assistant general manager of
Bethlehem Steel’s Fore River shipbuilding plant in Quincy, Massa-
chusetts. Though a salary of $15,000 a year was not enough to make
Joe a wealthy man, his defense work assuaged his conscience about
avoiding military service. More important, the experience, business
contacts, and, most of all, the chance to demonstrate his effective-
ness in managing a multimillion-dollar enterprise were invaluable
in opening the way to bigger opportunities. During his eighteen
months at Fore River, beginning in September 1917, Joe worked con-
stantly, sometimes sleeping in his office for only one or two hours a
night. Others worked as hard as Joe, but they lacked the inventive-
ness for efficiency and effectiveness he brought to every task. When
he left Bethlehem in the summer of 1919, he received a bonus check
“for services rendered at a time when no one else could have done
what you did.”
     Joe converted his wartime success as a manager at Bethlehem
                   22   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

into a job as a stockbroker with the prestigious Boston firm of Hay-
den, Stone and Company. Believing that the greatest possibility to
accumulate wealth in the coming decade would be in the stock mar-
ket, Joe used his $10,000-a-year job to turn “inside” information
into disciplined speculation that netted him nearly two million dol-
lars over the next six years. Joe had made good on his promise to
make his first million before he turned thirty-five, and after leaving
Hayden, Stone in 1923 to open his own office, he made millions
more trading stocks and in the movie industry, by buying first movie
theaters in Massachusetts and then an English-owned Hollywood
production company. After selling all his movie holdings in 1930,
he made another fortune in the liquor trade when Prohibition ended
in 1933.
     Joe’s growing wealth allowed him and Rose to have several more
children. In 1918 Rosemary, a tragically retarded child, was the first
of four successive daughters: Kathleen, born in 1920; Eunice, in 1921;
and Patricia, in 1924. Three more children — Robert Francis, born
in 1925; Jean Ann, in 1928; and Edward Moore, in 1932 — would
make Joe and Rose the parents of nine children over a seventeen-
year span. Joe and Rose took great joy in their large contingent; it
distinguished them in an era when most upwardly mobile families
had abandoned the tradition of having many children. Joe enjoyed
telling the story of how he had missed Patricia’s birth because of
nonstop business negotiations in New York. On his return home,
the five elder children, ranging in age from two to nine, greeted him
at the train station with shouts: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got
another baby! We’ve got another baby!” Joe remembered other pas-
sengers on the platform probably thinking: “What that fellow there
certainly doesn’t need right now is another baby.”
     Joe loved that his large family made him and Rose an object of
public attention. He also loved the message sent by his being able to
provide lavishly for so large a brood. In 1921 he had moved the
family into a larger Brookline house only a five-minute walk from
Beals Street at the intersection of Naples and Abbotsford Roads. The
twelve-room two-and-a-half-story house with a long enclosed front
porch, where the Kennedy children could play, provided enough
room not only for the whole family but also for a hospital-trained
live-in nursemaid and a separate room for Rose, where she could
have a small measure of privacy from the daily challenge of raising
so many children. It was a challenge at which neither Joe nor Rose
could claim unqualified success.
                      An Unfinished Life    #   23

                               *   * *
FOR ALL THE FAMILY’S WEALTH, status, and outward appearance of
unity and good cheer, Joe and Rose had personal issues that strained
their marriage and burdened their children. Rose’s religious educa-
tion, the intense requirements of her orthodoxy, left limited room
for the joy her comfortable existence opened to her. For Joe, the
harshness of the social slights he had suffered at Harvard, at their
summer homes, and in the banking and business worlds from folks
contemptuous of upstarts like him rankled throughout his life and
drained some of the pleasure from his rise to prominence.
     To be sure, they were a well-matched couple — similar back-
grounds, similar aspirations for wealth and prominence — but they
were also decidedly different: complementary opposites. Rose was the
consummate conformist. She meticulously followed the social mores
of the day, whether set down by her church or by the larger society
around her. Joe, too, was a great conformist — striving to achieve
a kind of universal acceptability — but he also prided himself on
being unconventional: bolder, more adventurous than everyone else,
and, if need be, a rule breaker. Innovation, thinking imaginatively,
would be a hallmark of his business career and a trait he passed
along to a few — though not all — of his children.
     Joe’s independence and willingness to defy accepted standards
partly expressed itself in compulsive womanizing. Speculation
abounds that Rose’s unresponsiveness to a man with normal appe-
tites drove him into the arms of chorus girls, starlets, and other
casual lovers. A mainstay of Kennedy family biographies is the story
of Joe teasing Rose in front of friends about her sexual inhibitions.
“Now listen, Rosie,” he would say. “This idea of yours that there is
no romance outside of procreation is simply wrong. It was not part
of our contract at the altar, the priest never said that and the books
don’t argue that. And if you don’t open your mind on this, I’m going
to tell the priest on you.” But Rose apparently remained unrespon-
sive to Joe’s desires. According to one family friend, after their last
child was born in 1932, Rose declared, “No more sex,” and moved
into a separate bedroom.
     But even if Rose had not denied him her favors, Joe would have
been a compulsive philanderer. For someone who needed to win,
win, win, who could never be content with great success in one
arena, who spent his life seeking new challenges in business —
banking, liquor, movies, stocks, real estate — and politics, it is diffi-
cult to imagine that he would have been content with one woman.
                   24   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     Joe made little effort to hide his womanizing. In 1921, for
example, he brazenly wrote a theatrical manager in New York: “I
hope you will have all the good looking girls in your company look-
ing forward with anticipation to meeting the high Irish of Boston
because I have a gang around me that must be fed on wild meat.” A
political reporter who knew Joe thought that for him women “were
another thing that a rich man had — like caviar. It wasn’t sex, it was
part of the image . . . his idea of manliness.” Joe even brought mis-
tresses into the Kennedy home, the young women eating meals with
the family and becoming part of the daily household routine. Betty
Spalding, the wife of one of Jack’s closest friends, who witnessed the
process, exclaimed, “And the old man — having his mistresses there
at the house for lunch and supper! I couldn’t understand it! It was
unheard of.” Joe served propriety by describing the young women to
visitors as friends of his daughters.
     But there were some limits. An affair with movie actress Gloria
Swanson in the late 1920s almost broke up the Kennedy marriage.
The romance was an open secret, with one Boston newspaper report-
ing that Joe’s phone calls to Gloria in California from New York
amounted to “the largest private telephone bill in the nation during
the year 1929,” even though Joe had taken precautions to ensure
that the affair was never so obvious that Rose would be unable to
deny its existence to herself and others. But there is evidence that
Honey Fitz argued with Joe over the affair, threatening to tell Rose if
Joe did not end it. Stubbornly, Joe refused, warning his father-in-law
that he might then divorce Rose and marry Gloria. Though Joe even-
tually broke off the relationship with Swanson when he left the
movie industry in 1929–30, it scarred the Kennedy household and
made for difficulties with the children that never disappeared.
     Like Joe, Rose was an imperfect parent. Part of her difficulty was
Joe’s insistence that she confine herself to “women’s work” in the
family. Generally, she played the good wife and repressed her irrita-
tion at being inhibited by her overbearing husband. “Your father
again has restricted my activities and thinks the little woman should
confine herself to the home,” she complained to the children in Feb-
ruary 1942. Rose was also unhappy with Joe’s many absences attend-
ing to business in New York and California, which threw the burden
of child rearing largely on her. Despite a large retinue of household
help, she was under constant pressure to attend to the needs of so
many small children during repeated pregnancies. Indeed, between
1914 and 1932, the eighteen years after she and Joe married, Rose
                      An Unfinished Life    #   25

was with child nearly 40 percent of the time. Moreover, a sense of
isolation from her previously glamorous life as the mayor’s favorite
daughter and a prominent Boston debutante joined with Joe’s phi-
landering to drive her into a brief separation from him early in
1920. Pregnant with her fourth child and exhausted by mothering
three others between the ages of one and five, she returned to her
father’s home for three weeks before he insisted that she “go back
where you belong.” Moved by her father’s insistence that she make
her marriage work, as well as her attendance at a religious retreat on
the obligations of a Catholic wife and mother, Rose returned to her
Brookline house with a renewed determination to succeed at the job
of building a successful family.
     As part of an agreement with Joe on how to sustain their mar-
riage and serve the children’s well-being, Rose regularly traveled
around the United States and abroad as a way to free her from con-
stant household demands. In the mid-thirties, she made seventeen
trips to Europe, where she shopped for the latest fashions and
enjoyed sight-seeing excursions. Assured that Joe, who arranged to
be at home during her absences, or at least close enough in case of
an emergency, would attend to the children, Rose took special plea-
sure in the freedom and stimulation reminiscent of her premarital
travels. During their respective separations from the family, Rose and
Joe agreed that neither would burden the other with current family
problems. Joe, for example, never reported an outbreak of measles in
the household while Rose was away in California for six weeks. “He
didn’t want to worry me and perhaps cause me to cancel part of my
trip,” Rose recalled. Similarly, when Joe called from California dur-
ing one of his frequent trips to Hollywood, Rose told him nothing
about a car accident that had her lying down with “a good-sized
gash in my forehead. . . . I spoke naturally, gave him news of the
children and told him what a fine day it was: a perfect day for golf.
Then I drove to the hospital where the doctor took five stitches in
my forehead.” It was an accommodation that allowed them to keep
their family intact and enjoy a privileged life. But it never eliminated
the many difficulties that would belie the picture of a well-adjusted,
happy family.

       Privileged Youth
       Youth [is] not a time of life but a state of mind . . .
       a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite
       for adventure over the love of ease.
          — Robert F. Kennedy (1966), borrowing from
            Samuel Ullman, “Youth” (1934)

AS HE GREW UP, Jack Kennedy came to understand that being the
second son of one of America’s richest and most famous families
set him apart from the many other privileged youths he knew. The
Cabots, Lodges, and Saltonstalls were better-known Boston clans;
the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts were wealthier; and the
Adamses, Roosevelts, and Tafts were more prominent as political
dynasties. But the Kennedys were also a recognizable national force,
a next generation ready to take on the world. And if Joe Kennedy
were ever to become president, Life magazine said in 1938, his
appealing children would have played a significant part. “His bounc-
ing offspring make the most politically ingratiating family since
Theodore Roosevelt’s.” They were a symbol of hope to the country’s
millions of ethnics and its more established middle class who
remained wedded to the belief — even in the worst of economic
times — that anyone with exceptional talent and drive could still
realize material opulence and public eminence exceeding the ordi-
nary promise of American life.

JACK’S FIRST MEMORIES from 1922–23 were associated with the
Naples Road house and attendance at the local public school, Ed-
ward Devotion. In 1924, Joe Jr., now nine, and Jack, age seven, were
sent to a local private school, Dexter, where — unlike Devotion,
                     An Unfinished Life    #   27

which had shorter hours — they would be supervised from 8:15 in
the morning until 4:45 in the afternoon. This schedule freed Rose to
give more attention to Rosemary, whose retardation mandated home
tutoring. The boy’s mother also saw Dexter as a guard against the
mischief — the “state of quixotic disgrace,” she called it — for which
Joe Jr. and Jack had an obvious affinity. To their father, Dexter, the
successor to the discontinued lower school of the prestigious Noble
and Greenough School, would bring his sons together with their
Beacon Hill counterparts, the offspring of Social Register families
such as the Storrows, Saltonstalls, and Bundys.
    Jack’s first ten years were filled with memories of Grandpa Fitz
taking him and Joe Jr. to Red Sox games, boating in Boston’s Public
Garden, or on the campaign circuit around Boston in 1922, when
the old man made a failed bid for governor. There were also the
childhood illnesses from bronchitis, chicken pox, German measles,
measles, mumps, scarlet fever, and whooping cough that confined
him to bed, where he learned the pleasure of being read to by Rose
or reading on his own about the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor,
Peter Pan, and Black Beauty. His favorites were Billy Whiskers — the
escapades of a billy goat that traveled the world and “which Jack
found vastly interesting” — and Reddy Fox, one of various animals
“mixed up in a series of simple, but . . . exciting adventures.” Jack
was also drawn to the stories of adventure and chivalry in Sir Walter
Scott’s Waverley novels, to biographies of prominent characters, and
to histories, “so long as they had flair, action, and color,” Rose
recalled. He read and reread King Arthur and the Round Table.
    Young Jack regularly took morning walks with Rose and one or
two of his siblings to the local shopping area, the five-and-ten, and
the parish church, which Rose explained was not only for Sunday or
special holidays but part of a good Catholic’s daily life. And there
were the summers away from Boston, first at Cohasset, a Protestant
enclave on the South Shore, where the family met a wall of social
hostility in 1922, including Joe’s exclusion from membership in the
town’s country club, then at the Cape Cod villages of Craigville
Beach in 1924 and Hyannis Port, beginning in 1926, both more wel-
coming. Traveling to the Cape in Joe’s chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce,
the Kennedys rented a two-and-a-half-acre estate overlooking the
Hyannis Port harbor. There, Jack learned to swim and enjoy the out-
door activities that became a constant in the family’s life.
    “It was an easy, prosperous life, supervised by maids and nurses,
                     28   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

with more and more younger sisters to boss and to play with,” Jack
told his 1960 campaign biographer, James MacGregor Burns. When
later asked if anything really bothered him as a child, Jack could
only think of his competition with Joe. Their games and roughhous-
ing on the front porch occasionally descended into hostilities that
disrupted their strong mutual attachment. “He had a pugnacious
personality,” Jack said about his brother. “Later on it smoothed out,
but it was a problem in my boyhood.” A young woman Jack dated as
a teenager remembered that whenever they were alone, Jack would
talk about his brother. “He talked about him all the time: ‘Joe plays
football better, Joe dances better, Joe is getting better grades.’ Joe just
kind of overshadowed him in everything.”
    Joe Jr., bigger and stronger than Jack, bullied him, and fights be-
tween the two — often fierce wrestling matches — terrified younger
brother Bobby and their sisters. Jack particularly remembered a bi-
cycle race Joe suggested. They sped around the block in opposite
directions, meeting head-on in front of their house. Never willing to
concede superiority to the other, neither backed off from a collision
that left Joe unhurt and Jack nursing twenty-eight stitches. Joe Jr.
patiently instructed all his younger siblings in the rules and tech-
niques of various games, except for Jack. A football handoff became
an opportunity to slam the ball into Jack’s stomach “and walk away
laughing as his younger brother lay doubled up in pain.” Jack, who
refused to be intimidated, developed a hit-and-run style of attack,
provoking Joe into unsuccessful chases that turned Jack’s flight into a
kind of triumph.
    But for all the tensions, Jack thought Joe hung the moon. When
Joe went to summer camp in 1926, the nine-year-old Jack briefly
enjoyed his temporary elevation to eldest sibling. But as Joe Sr.
noted, Jack was soon pining for his brother’s return and made his
father promise that he could accompany Joe Jr. the following sum-
mer. Jack later remembered that there was no one he would “rather
have spent an evening or played golf or in fact done anything
[with].” Still, a rivalry remained. In November 1929, when Joe Jr.
returned home for Thanksgiving from his first term at boarding
school, Jack took special pleasure in recording his triumphs over his
dominant brother. “When Joe came home he was telling me how
strong he was and how tough,” Jack wrote their father. “The first
thing he did to show me how tough he was was to get sick so that he
could not have any Thanksgiving dinner. Manly youth. He was then
                     An Unfinished Life    #   29

going to show me how to Indian wrestle. I then threw him over on
his neck.” Jack also crowed over the paddling the sixth formers (the
seniors) at the school gave Joe, who “was all blisters. . . . What I
wouldn’t have given to be a sixth former.”
     The backdrop for all this was no longer Brookline. In Septem-
ber 1927, when Jack was ten, the family had moved to Riverdale,
New York, a rural Bronx suburb of Manhattan. Joe had become a
force in the film industry, and his ventures took him between New
York and Los Angeles, so there were sensible business reasons for the
     But Joe’s frustration with Boston’s social barriers had as much
to do with the move to New York as convenience. Boston “was no
place to bring up Irish Catholic children,” Joe later told a reporter.
“I didn’t want them to go through what I had to go through when I
was growing up there.” But unwilling to completely sever ties to the
region that both he and Rose cherished, Joe bought the Hyannis
Port estate they had been renting, ensuring that the family would
continue to spend its summers on the Cape.
     The move to New York was not without strain. Despite being
transported in a private railway car and moving into a thirteen-room
house previously owned by former Secretary of State Charles Evans
Hughes in a lovely wooded area overlooking the Hudson River, Rose
remembered the change as “a blow in the stomach. For months I
would wake up in our new house in New York and feel a terrible
sense of loss.” Her distance from familiar surroundings, friends, and
family made for a painful transition. The ancestors in the North End
tenements would have puzzled over her hardship. A second move in
1929 into a mansion on six acres in the village community of Bronx-
ville, a few miles north of Riverdale, where the average per capita
income of its few thousand residents was among the highest in the
country, was more to Rose’s liking.
     Jack had quickly settled into the private Riverdale Country Day
School, where he excelled in his studies in the fourth and fifth
grades. In the sixth grade, however, when Joe Jr. went to the Choate
boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, Jack’s work suffered,
falling to a “creditable” 75, a February 1930 report stated. Despite
his undistinguished school record, or possibly because of it, Joe and
Rose decided to send Jack to boarding school as well. But instead of
Choate, Rose enrolled Jack in the Canterbury School in New Mil-
ford, Connecticut, an exclusive Catholic academy run by a Catholic
                    30   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

priest and staffed by fourteen Catholic teachers for ninety-two stu-
dents. Of the twenty-one students in the school’s 1930 graduating
class going to college, seven went to Yale, seven to Princeton, and
one to Harvard.
     Although attending a boarding school marked Jack as a privi-
leged child, he did not appreciate being sent so far away from home.
(It would not be the last time Jack felt the burdens of privilege.) “It’s
a pretty good place,” he wrote a relative, and “the swimming pool is
great,” but he saw little else to recommend the school. He was
“pretty homesick the first night” and at other times thereafter. The
football team looked “pretty bad.” Worse, “you have a whole lot of
religion and the studies are pretty hard. The only time you can get
out of here is to see the Harvard-Yale and the Army-Yale [games].
This place is freezing at night and pretty cold in the daytime.” His
attendance at chapel every morning and evening would make him
“quite pius [sic] I guess when I get home,” he grudgingly told Rose.
He also had his share of problems with his classes. English, math,
and history were fine, but he struggled with science and especially
Latin, which drove his average down to a 77. “In fact his average
should be well in the 80’s,” the headmaster recorded. Jack admitted
to his mother that he was “doing a little worrying about my studies
because what he [the headmaster] said about me starting of[f ] great
and then going down sunk in.”
     In the fall of 1930, when he was thirteen and a half, Jack was
more interested in current events and sports than in any of his stud-
ies. Football, basketball, hockey, squash, skating, and sledding were
Jack’s first priorities, but feeling closed off in the cloistered world of
a Catholic academy made him increasingly eager to keep up with the
state of the world. He wrote Joe from Canterbury: “Please send me
the Litary [sic] Digest, because I did not know about the Market
Slump until a long time after, or a paper. Please send me some golf
balls.” A missionary’s talk one morning at mass about India
impressed Jack as “one of the most interesting talks that I ever
heard.” It was all an early manifestation of what his later associate
Theodore C. Sorensen described as “a desire to enjoy the world and
a desire to improve it; and these two desires, particularly in the years
preceding 1953, had sometimes been in conflict.”
     In 1930, however, pleasure seeking clearly stood first. In 1960,
when Time journalist Hugh Sidey asked Jack, “What do you remem-
ber about the Great Depression?” he replied, “I have no first-hand
                      An Unfinished Life    #   31

knowledge of the depression. My family had one of the great for-
tunes of the world and it was worth more than ever then. We had
bigger houses, more servants, we traveled more. About the only
thing that I saw directly was when my father hired some extra gar-
deners just to give them a job so they could eat. I really did not learn
about the depression until I read about it at Harvard.”
     He was insulated by money but also by nurture. Charles Spald-
ing, one of Jack’s close childhood friends, who spent weekends and
holidays with the family, noted, “You watched these people go
through their lives and just had a feeling that they existed outside
the usual laws of nature; that there was no other group so hand-
some, so engaged. There was endless action . . . endless talk . . . end-
less competition, people drawing each other out and pushing each
other to greater lengths. It was as simple as this: the Kennedys had a
feeling of being heightened and it rubbed off on the people who
came in contact with them. They were a unit. I remember thinking
to myself that there couldn’t be another group quite like this one.”
     If Jack understood that he was part of an unusual family, it also
bred a certain arrogance. Joe Sr. could be abrupt and unfriendly,
even disdainful of anyone he considered unworthy of his attention,
especially those who did not show him proper regard. He saw some
of this as payback for the humiliating slights inflicted on him for
being an Irish Catholic.
     Most victims of Joe’s disdain were not ready to forgive and for-
get. They saw Joe and the family as pretentious and demanding.
At Cape Cod, for example, where renovations had turned the origi-
nal cottage on the Kennedy property into a house with fourteen
bedrooms, nine baths, a basement theater wired to show talking
pictures, and an outdoor tennis court, Joe had a reputation as “opin-
ionated,” “hard as nails,” and “an impossible man to work for.” The
family was notorious for its casualness about paying its bills or
carrying cash to meet obligations in a timely fashion. Shopkeepers
and gas station attendants lost patience with giving the family credit
and having to dun servants for payment. “We’re Kennedys,” a car-
ful of kids told a gas station owner who refused to accept a prom-
ise to pay later for a fill-up. A call to the Kennedy compound
brought a chauffeur with a can of gasoline to get the car back to the
     Jack came to his maturity with an almost studied indifference to
money. He never carried much, if any, cash. Why would someone so
                    32   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

well-off need currency to pay for anything? Everyone knew or should
have known that he was good for his debts, be it a restaurant check,
a clothing bill, or a hotel tab. He was always asking friends to pick
up the bill, not because he expected them to pay but because his
handlers, his father’s moneymen, would square accounts later. And
they usually did, though occasionally some of Jack’s creditors would
have to make embarrassing requests for payment of loans or debts
that he had overlooked.
     The self-indulgence of the Kennedy children was often on public
display. Stepping off one of the Kennedy boats onto the Hyannis
Port pier, the children would shed articles of clothing as they
marched along, expecting “that someone else would pick up after
them.” Kennedy maids particularly complained about Jack’s sloven-
liness: “the wet towels in a heap on the floor, the tangle of ties in
one corner, the bureau drawers turned over and emptied in the
middle of the bed in a hurried search for some wanted item.”
     The children also had little sense of being confined to a place
and time. One of Jack’s childhood friends remembered them this
way: “They really didn’t have a real home with their own rooms
where they had pictures on the walls or memorabilia on the shelves
but would rather come home for holidays from their boarding
schools and find whatever room was available. . . . ‘Which room do
I have this time?’ ” Jack would ask his mother. He did not feel he had
to live by the ordinary rules governing everyone else. He was always
arriving late for meals and classes, setting his own pace, taking the
less-traveled path; he was his father’s son. With the Kennedys, Jack’s
friend recalled, “life speeded up.”
     There was also a remarkable sense of loyalty. Joe taught his chil-
dren, particularly Jack and Joe Jr., to rely on family unity as a shield
against competitors and opponents. On a crossing to Europe in 1935,
Joe called Jack away from a game of deck tennis to meet Lawrence
Fisher, one of the brothers who had gained fame and fortune design-
ing autos for General Motors. “Jack, I sent for you because I want
you to meet Mr. Lawrence Fisher, one of the famous Fisher Body
family. I wanted you to see what success brothers have who stick
together.” It was a lesson that none of the Kennedy children ever for-
got. Once, when Joe Jr. and Jack argued with each other and one
of Jack’s friends tried to take his side, Jack turned on him angrily,
saying, “Mind your own business! Keep out of it! I’m talking to Joe,
not you!”
                      An Unfinished Life    #   33

                                * * *
AFTER A YEAR at Canterbury School, Jack was not keen to return,
wishing instead to follow Joe Jr. to Choate. Joe acquiesced to his
son’s request, and in September 1931 Jack joined his brother at the
storied New England academy. Joe and Rose were less interested in
the distinctive education the boys would receive than in the chance
to expose them to the country’s power brokers, or at least the sons of
America’s most influential families. Choate was not quite on a par
with the older, more elite prep schools of Andover, Exeter, St. Mark’s,
or St. Paul’s, but it was distinctive enough — part of a wave of boys’
boarding schools founded in the 1880s and 1890s. Association with
the best and the brightest, Joe and Rose believed, would ultimately
come at Harvard, but the prelude to admission there was an educa-
tion at a school like Choate. As Jack would soon learn, membership
in the world of privilege carried lifelong responsibilities that would
both attract and repel him.
    An IQ of 119 and strong scores on the English and algebra parts
of Jack’s Choate entrance exams had helped ease his admission,
though the desire to have Jack Kennedy at the school was decidedly
mutual. Choate, which had a keen interest in the sons of a family so
wealthy and, by 1930, publicly visible, had in fact courted first Joe’s
and then Jack’s attendance. Jack had actually failed the Latin part of
Choate’s entrance exam in the spring of 1931, but the school was
more than happy to let him retake the test after some summer tutor-
ing. And even if he did not measure up on his next Latin test, Choate
intended to enroll him in the fall term; the only question was
whether he would start “a straight Third Form schedule,” which he
did when he met the Latin requirement in October.
    The difficult transition from teenager to young adult character-
ized Jack’s four years at Choate. Not the least of his difficulties was a
series of medical problems that baffled his doctors and tested his
patience. From the time he was three, not a year passed without one
physical affliction or another. Three months before his third birth-
day, he came down with a virulent case of scarlet fever. A highly con-
tagious and life-threatening illness for so small a child, he had to be
hospitalized for two months, followed by two weeks in a Maine
sanatorium. To get Jack proper care at the Boston medical center best
prepared to treat the disease, Joe had to exert all his influence,
including that of his father-in-law. With 600 local children suffer-
ing from scarlet fever and only 125 beds available at Boston City
                    34   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Hospital, arranging Jack’s admission was no small feat. But when it
came to medical attention for his children, Joe was as aggressive as
in any of his business dealings: He not only got Jack into the hospi-
tal but also ensured that one of the country’s leading authorities on
contagious diseases would care for him. During the 1920s, Jack’s
many childhood maladies included chicken pox and ear infections.
They compelled him to spend a considerable amount of time in bed
or at least indoors, convalescing.
     At Canterbury in the fall of 1930, at age thirteen, he began to
suffer from an undiagnosed illness that restricted his activities. Be-
tween October and December he lost nearly six pounds, felt “pretty
tired,” and did not grow appropriately. One doctor attributed it to a
lack of milk in his diet, but the diagnosis failed to explain why dur-
ing a chapel service he felt “sick dizzy and weak. I just about fainted,
and everything began to get black so I went out and then I fell and
Mr. Hume [the headmaster] caught me. I am O.K. now,” he declared
bravely in a letter to his father. In April 1931, he collapsed with
abdominal pains, and the surgeon who examined him concluded
that it was appendicitis and that an operation was necessary at the
nearby Danbury Hospital. Later notes on Jack’s school attendance
describe him as “probably very homesick during his time at Canter-
bury. He wrote a great deal of letters home. In May, he left school
with appendicitis and did not return.” But having completed his
year’s work with the help of a tutor at home, he was able to move on
to Choate in the fall.
     There, his medical problems became more pronounced. Several
confinements in the infirmary marked his first year at the school.
In November, “a mild cold” cost him two nights in the hospital,
and when he went home for Thanksgiving, Joe remarked on how
thin he looked. In January, he was confined again for “a cold,”
which did not clear up quickly, turned in to “quite a cough,” and
kept him in the infirmary for more than a week. Although adminis-
tered regular doses of cod liver oil and enrolled in a bodybuilding
class, his weight remained at only 117 pounds — less than robust
for a fourteen-and-a-half-year-old boy — and he continued to suffer
fatigue. In April, he had to return to the infirmary because of
another cold, swollen glands, and what was described as an abnor-
mal urine sample.
     More puzzling medical problems punctuated Jack’s second year
at Choate. In January and February 1933, “flu-like symptoms”
                       An Unfinished Life    #   35

plagued him, as well as almost constant pain in his knees. “Jack’s
winter term sounded like a hospital report,” a fiftieth-anniversary
remembrance of his attendance at the school recounted, “with corre-
spondence flying back and forth between Rose Kennedy and Clara
St. John [the headmaster’s wife]. Again, eyes, ears, teeth, knees, arches,
from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, Jack needed atten-
tion.” X rays showed no pathology in his knees, and so his doctor
attributed his difficulties to growing pains and recommended exer-
cises and “built-up” shoes.
     Matters got worse the following year. Over the summer of 1933,
after he had turned sixteen, he gained no weight. It precluded him
from playing football, but more important, it stimulated fresh con-
cerns about his health, which now went into a sharp decline in Janu-
ary and February 1934. “We are still puzzled as to the cause of Jack’s
trouble,” Clara St. John wrote Rose early in February. “He didn’t look
at all well when he came back after Christmas, but apparently had
improved steadily since then.” But at the end of January he became
very sick and had to be rushed by ambulance to New Haven Hospi-
tal for observation. Mrs. St. John told Jack: “I hope with all my heart
that the doctors will find out in the shortest possible order what is
making the trouble, and will clear it out of the way even quicker
than that.” His symptoms were a bad case of hives and weight loss;
but the doctors now feared that he had life-threatening leukemia
and began taking regular blood counts. “It seems that I was much
sicker than I thought I was,” Jack wrote classmate LeMoyne Billings
after he got out of the hospital, “and am supposed to be dead, so I
am developing a limp and a hollow cough.” He complained that his
rectum was “plenty red after the hospital. Yours would be red too if
you had shoved every thing from rubber tubes to iron pipes up it.
When I crap I don’t even feel it because it’s so big.” By March, Jack’s
symptoms had largely disappeared, but his doctors remained uncer-
tain about the cause of his difficulties.
     In addition to his illnesses, Jack now struggled with normal ado-
lescent problems about identity and sexuality, as well as having to
live in the shadow of a highly successful and favored elder brother.
By the time Jack arrived at Choate, Joe Jr. had established himself as,
in the words of the headmaster’s wife, “one of the ‘big boys’ of the
school on whom we are going to depend.” Rose had already sig-
naled George St. John, the headmaster, that Jack was not Joe Jr. —
unlike Joe Jr., Jack did not acclimate easily to either academic or
                    36   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

social regimens. Mindful of their concern, the headmaster told Joe,
“Jack sits at a nearby table in the Dining Hall where I look him in
the eye three times a day, and he is fine.”
    But Joe Jr.’s success on the playing fields and in the classroom
took its toll on Jack. A tall, skinny boy of fourteen, whom his class-
mates called Rat Face because of his thin, narrow visage, Jack was too
slight to gain distinction in athletics, which he badly wanted. When
his brother won the school’s coveted Harvard Trophy at his gradua-
tion in 1933, an award to the student who best combined scholar-
ship and sportsmanship, it confirmed in Jack the feeling that he
could never win the degree of approval his parents — and, it seemed,
everyone else — lavished on his elder brother. Jack told Billings that
he believed he was as intelligent as his brother, and probably even as
good an athlete, but he had little confidence that his family would
ever see him as surpassing Joe Jr.
    In addition to feeling too much in his brother’s shadow, Jack
wrestled with the strains of uncommonly high parental expectations,
pressures to live up to “Kennedy standards,” to stand out not just
from the crowd but from the best of the best. The overt message,
especially from his father, was “second best will never do.” Whether
in athletics, academics, or social standing, there was an insistent
demand that the Kennedy children, especially the boys, reach the
top rung. The lesson Jack now learned was that privilege had its
advantages and pleasures, but it also had its demands and draw-
backs. As one Kennedy family biographer said: “[Joe] stressed to his
children the importance of winning at any cost and the pleasures of
coming in first. As his own heroes were not poets or artists but men
of action, he took it for granted that his children too wanted public
success. . . . All too often, his understanding about their desires . . .
were fruits of his experience and his dreams, not necessarily theirs.”
    Joe Jr., with a robust constitution, a temperament much like his
father’s, and a readiness to follow his lead, was Joe’s favorite. Yet
despite this and whatever Jack’s antagonism toward Joe, an under-
standing that his father would do anything for him, that his over-
powering dad was motivated by an intense desire to ensure his
well-being, established surpassing lifelong ties of affection. Jack also
identified with Joe’s iconoclasm, with his talent for seeing oppor-
tunities conventional businessmen missed, making independent
judgments at variance with prevailing wisdom, and setting social
standards that ignored accepted rules for married life.
                      An Unfinished Life     #   37

    For all the love and attention he lavished on his second son, Joe
resented the many medical problems that plagued Jack’s early life.
“Jack was sick all the time,” one of his friends recalled, “and the old
man could be an asshole around his kids.” In the late 1940s, dur-
ing a visit to the Kennedys’ Palm Beach, Florida, home, the friend,
Jack, and a date bade Joe good night before going out to a movie.
Joe snidely told Jack’s girlfriend: “Why don’t you get a live one?”
Angered by the unkind reference to Jack’s poor health, afterward the
friend made a disparaging remark about Joe. But Jack defended his
father: “Everybody wants to knock his jock off,” he said, “but he
made the whole thing possible.”
    It was typical of Jack to see the best in people and outwardly not
take umbrage at Joe’s occasional hostility toward him for his physi-
cal limitations. But Joe’s hectoring did make Jack wonder whether
the pressure was worth the many privileges his father’s wealth and
status conferred on him. “We all have our fathers,” Jack said re-
signedly to a friend complaining about his parent. At a minimum,
Joe’s allusion to Jack’s health problems struck a painful chord. Jack
was self-conscious about his physical problems and worked hard to
overcome and ignore them. One friend said, “[Jack’s] very frame as a
light, thin person, his proneness to injury of all kinds, his back, his
sickness, which he wouldn’t ever talk about . . . he was heartily
ashamed of them, they were a mark of effeminacy, of weakness,
which he wouldn’t acknowledge.” When this friend upbraided Jack
for being too concerned about improving his appearance by getting
a tan, Jack replied, “Well, . . . it’s not only that I want to look that
way, but it makes me feel that way. It gives me confidence, it makes
me feel healthy. It makes me feel strong, healthy, attractive.”
    Within sharply delineated bounds, Jack rebelled against school
and, indirectly, parental authority at Choate. His schoolwork con-
tinued to be uneven — strong in English and history, in which he
had substantial interest, and mediocre at best in languages, which
required the sort of routine discipline he found difficult to maintain.
His low grades in Latin and French compelled him to attend sum-
mer session in 1932, at the end of his freshman year. Rose later
remarked on how concerned they were about Jack’s health dur-
ing his Choate years. But “what concerned us as much or more was
his lack of diligence in his studies; or, let us say, lack of ‘fight’ in
trying to do well in those subjects that didn’t happen to interest
him. . . . Choate had a highly ‘structured’ set of rules, traditions, and
                    38   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

expectations into which a boy was supposed to fit; and if he didn’t,
there was little or no ‘permissiveness.’ Joe Jr. had no trouble at all
operating within this system; it suited his temperament. But Jack
couldn’t or wouldn’t conform. He did pretty much what he wanted,
rather than what the school wanted of him.”
     During his years at Choate, Jack remained more interested in
contemporary affairs than in his classes. But although he “conspicu-
ously failed to open his schoolbooks,” Choate’s headmaster recalled,
he “was the best informed boy of his year.” One classmate remem-
bered that Jack was able to answer between 50 and 60 percent of the
questions on the popular radio quiz show Information, Please, while
he himself could only get about 10 percent of them right. Jack’s lim-
ited grasp of the Great Depression suggests that he did not have
much interest in economic affairs, but he became a regular subscriber
to the New York Times, reading it, or at least glancing at it, every
morning. He also began a lifelong fascination with the writings of
Winston Churchill.
     Although Jack’s academic work was good enough in his junior
and senior years to allow him to graduate in the middle of his class,
and although he enjoyed considerable popularity among his peers,
winning designation from his senior classmates as the “most likely
to succeed,” he still refused to fit in. “I’d like to take the responsibil-
ity for Jack’s constant lack of neatness about his room and person,
since he lived with me for two years,” Jack’s housemaster wrote. “But
in the matter of neatness . . . I must confess to failure.” Jack’s sloppi-
ness was seen as symbolic of his disorderliness “in almost all of his
organization projects. Jack studies at the last minute, keeps appoint-
ments late, has little sense of material value, and can seldom locate
his possessions.”
     In November 1933, Joe Sr. wrote George St. John: “I can’t tell
you how unhappy I was in seeing and talking with Jack. He seems to
lack entirely a sense of responsibility. His happy-go-lucky manner
with a degree of indifference does not portend well for his future
development.” Joe urged his eldest son to help in any way he could
to encourage Jack’s commitment to his work. Joe worried that Jack
might end up as a ne’er-do-well son ruined by an indulged child-
hood. “We have possibly contributed as much as anybody in spoil-
ing him by having secretaries and maids following him to see that
he does what he should do,” Joe told Choate’s assistant headmaster.
     In his final year at Choate, Jack pushed the school’s rules to the
limit. Organizing a Muckers Club, the headmaster’s term for Choate
                     An Unfinished Life    #   39

boys who defied the rules and did not meet their obligations to the
school, Jack and several of his friends aimed to “put over festivities
in our own little way and to buck the system more effectively.”
     LeMoyne Billings and Ralph (Rip) Horton, Jack’s two closest
friends, were “co-conspirators” in the “rebellion.” Jack and Billings
had a natural affinity for each other. Both had more successful elder
brothers who had set seemingly insurmountable standards at Choate
for their younger siblings. Like Jack, Lem loved practical jokes and
was irreverent about the school’s many rules regulating their daily
lives. Billings, the son of a Pittsburgh physician, and Horton, the
child of a wealthy New York dairy business family, deferred to Jack,
who enjoyed higher social standing and, like his father, insisted on
being the leader.
     Although the Muckers represented no more than a small rebel-
lion on Jack’s part, in the cloistered atmosphere of a rural private
school, where such defiance took on a larger meaning, St. John re-
sponded angrily. He “let loose“ at the thirteen club members in
chapel, naming names and denouncing their corruption of the
school’s morals and integrity. Privately, he described the Muckers as
“a colossally selfish, pleasure loving, unperceptive group — in gen-
eral opposed to the hardworking, solid people in the school,
whether masters or boys.” He wired Joe Kennedy to come “for a con-
ference with Jack and us which we think a necessity.” Choate English
teacher Harold Tinker later admitted that St. John enjoyed the
thought of humiliating Jack’s father: St. John was anti-Catholic —
something he made quite clear at faculty meetings — and “resented
having Catholics at his school,” especially any related to someone as
rich and prominent as Joe Kennedy. But St. John also understood
that the well-being of the school partly depended on giving no overt
expression to his bias. Though Jack had no evidence that the head-
master would act on his anti-Catholicism, he nevertheless feared
that St. John might expel him and destroy whatever approval he still
enjoyed from his parents. The episode, however, blew over when
Jack promised to disband the club and take his punishment of a
delayed Easter vacation.
     In acting as he had, Jack played out several impulses that domi-
nated his early life. He tested the rules so boldly at Choate because
he believed he could get away with it. As the son of a wealthy and
prominent family — Joe had become the chairman of Franklin Roo-
sevelt’s Securities and Exchange Commission in the summer of
1934 — Jack felt some invulnerability to St. John’s strictures. But he
                    40   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

also understood that the limits to what St. John would allow might
be influenced by Jack’s own powers to ingratiate himself with both
his elders and his peers. He was very well liked by most of the other
boys at the school, as their willingness to vote him most likely to
succeed demonstrates. St. John himself readily acknowledged that
Jack had a winning way that endeared him to most everyone: “In
any school he would have got away with some things, just on his
smile. He was a very likeable person, very lovable.” Writing Joe in
November 1933, St. John concluded that “the longer I live and work
with him and the more I talk with him, the more confidence I have
in him. I would be willing to bet anything that within two years you
will be as proud of Jack as you are now of Joe.” In another letter that
month, St. John went so far as to declare: “I never saw a boy with as
many fine qualities as Jack has, that didn’t come out right . . . in the
end.” The following February, during a health crisis Jack weathered,
St. John told Joe, “Jack is one of the best people that ever lived —
one of the most able and interesting. I could go on about Jack!” He
may not have liked Catholics, but he certainly liked this Catholic, a
testament to Jack’s remarkable charm.
     In his limited rebellion at Choate, Jack was also playing out a
trait Joe Sr. had consciously worked to instill in his children. Joe was
not entirely blind to the fact that he was an overbearing, demanding,
insistent character who dominated almost everyone and everything
he touched. Because he sensed how destructive this could be to
his offspring, especially the boys, he made a point of encouraging
a measure of independence and even irreverence. Visitors to the
Kennedy home who watched Joe’s interactions with Joe Jr. and Jack
remembered how he would push them to argue their own point of
view, make up their own minds, and never slavishly follow accepted
wisdom. Lem Billings recalled that mealtime conversations at the
Kennedys’ never consisted of small talk. Joe Sr. “never lectured. He
would encourage them [the children] completely to disagree with
him, and of course they did disagree with him. Mr. Kennedy is, I’d
say, far right of his children, and yet he certainly didn’t try to influ-
ence them that way.”
     And perhaps if Joe Sr. saw in his eldest son what could be, he
saw in Jack more who he was. When St. John interrupted a conversa-
tion between him, Jack, and Joe to take a phone call, Joe leaned over
and whispered to Jack, “My God, my son, you sure didn’t inherit
your father’s directness or his reputation for using bad language. If
                      An Unfinished Life    #   41

that crazy Mucker’s Club had been mine, you can be sure it wouldn’t
have started with an M!” Joe’s irreverence was not lost on Jack, who
inscribed a graduation photo to one of the other leading lights in
the club, “To Boss Tweed from Honest Abe, may we room together at
Sing Sing.”
    When Joe Jr. graduated from Choate, his father sent him to
study in England for a year with Harold Laski, a prominent socialist
academic. Rose considered this “a little wild and even dangerous,”
but Joe, convinced it would encourage greater independence and
sharpen his son’s ability to argue the case for a more conservative
outlook, ignored his wife’s concern. And when Joe Jr. returned after
a summer trip to Russia with Laski and described the advantages of
socialism over capitalism, Joe told Rose, “If I were their age I would
probably believe what they believe, but I am of a different back-
ground and must voice my beliefs.” Joe made it clear that he cared
much less about their different outlooks than that they had reached
independent judgments.
    St. John saw even more of this sort of constructed independence
in Jack’s behavior. “Jack has a clever, individualist mind,” he told
Joe. “It is a harder mind to put in harness than Joe [Jr.]’s. . . . When
he learns the right place for humor and learns to use his individual
way of looking at things as an asset instead of a handicap, his natu-
ral gift of an individual outlook and witty expression are going to
help him. A more conventional mind and a more plodding and
mature point of view would help him a lot more right now; but
we have to allow, my dear Mr. Kennedy, with boys like Jack, for a
period of adjustment . . . and growing up; and the final product
is often more interesting and more effective than the boy with a
more conventional mind who has been to us parents and teachers
much less trouble.” The mature John Kennedy would fulfill St.
John’s prediction.

DESPITE BEING SIXTY-FIFTH in a class of 110, Jack was assured a
place at Harvard. In 1935, as the son of so prominent an alumnus,
with an elder brother in good standing at the university, and Harry
Hopkins, FDR’s welfare administrator, and Herbert Bayard Swope,
the prominent journalist/editor, listed as nonacademic references,
Jack had few doubts about his admission. But reluctant once more
to be directly in Joe Jr.’s shadow, he chose to go to Princeton with
Lem Billings and other Choate friends. Joe Sr. accepted his son’s
                   42   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

decision as a welcome demonstration of Jack’s independence —
though he may have smiled when the son who so wanted to diverge
from his elder brother’s path asked to follow Joe Jr. in spending a
year in England under Harold Laski’s tutelage.
     In the conflict between self-indulgence and worldly interests, the
former gave little ground to the latter in Jack’s eighteenth year. And
in fact, in the summer and fall of 1935, when he traveled to Europe
for the first time, Jack was less interested in studying with Laski
at the London School of Economics than in making acquaintances
and enjoying the social life in London. Rising European tensions
over the Rhineland and Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia registered less on
Jack as a significant moment in history than simply as reasons to
go home.
     In October, when one of Jack’s bouts of illness added to con-
cerns about keeping him abroad, he returned to America, where he
quickly seemed to recover and petitioned for late admission to
Princeton’s fall term. When the university denied it, Joe arranged
through a prominent Princeton alumnus for Jack’s enrollment at the
beginning of November. He lasted only until December, when ill-
ness again interrupted his studies and sent him to Peter Bent Brig-
ham Hospital in Boston. Recuperating from his still-undiagnosed
maladies in Palm Beach, Florida, Jack accepted his father’s sugges-
tion that he go to Arizona for two months beginning in April. There,
the warm climate and relaxed pace at a ranch seemed to restore
Jack’s health. With time to reflect, Jack changed his mind about col-
lege. Princeton’s cloistered environment and spartan living quarters
in South Reunion Hall had disappointed him, so he decided to
renew his application to Harvard in July 1936, receiving admission
to the fall term within three days of applying.
     During his first two years at Harvard, Jack largely continued the
pattern he had established at Choate. His academic record was
unimpressive: a B-minus in government the first year and a B in
English the second were offset by grades of C and C-plus in French,
history, and a second government course, his major interest. “Exam
today,” he wrote Billings during his first finals period in January
1937, “so have to open my book & see what the fucking course is
about.” When he got too far behind in his work, Jack occasionally
relied on a tutoring service or an outside “cram school,” which
charged a fee for bringing unprepared students up to speed for an
exam. Jack’s freshman adviser predicted that he would probably do
                      An Unfinished Life     #   43

better in time, but in his sophomore year he had still not lived up to
his talent or promise. “Though his mind is still undisciplined,” his
tutor wrote, “and will probably never be very original, he has ability,
I think, and gives promise of development.”
     Jack’s classmates and teachers remember a charming, irreverent
young man with a fine sense of humor and a passion for sports and
the good life. He certainly showed no overt interest in the campus
activism provoked by the Depression, FDR’s New Deal, and the chal-
lenges to democracy and capitalism from fascism, Nazism, and com-
munism. There is no indication that he read any of the popular
progressive journals of the day, such as The Nation, the New Republic,
or New Masses, or gave much, if any, heed to the parades and protest
demonstrations organized by students eager to have a say in public
affairs. He had little use for doctrinaire advocates who “espoused
their causes with a certitude which he could never quite understand.”
Indeed, after only two months at Harvard, he privately vented his
irritation with the political clichés he had been hearing in a whimsi-
cal letter to Billings. “You are certainly a large-sized prick to keep my
hat,” he complained to Lem, “as I can’t find my other one and con-
sequently am hatless. Please send it as I am sending yours. . . . Har-
vard has not made me grasping but you are getting a certain carefree
communistic attitude + a share the wealth attitude that is rather wor-
rying to we who are wealthy.”
     His focus remained on the extracurricular and social activities he
found more enjoyable, and stamped him as one of the many stu-
dents at Harvard more interested in earning the social standing that
attendance and graduation provided than in the book learning
needed to advance a career. Although James Bryant Conant, Har-
vard’s president beginning in 1933, stressed the importance of “mer-
itocracy,” a university focused more on the intellect and character of
its students than on their social origins, social snobbery continued
to dominate the undergraduate life of the university. Jack’s first two
years on campus were a reflection of these mores. Football, swim-
ming, and golf, and service on the Smoker and Annual Show com-
mittees occupied his freshman year, while junior varsity football,
varsity swimming, the Spee and Yacht Clubs, and service on the
business board of the Harvard Crimson filled his second year.
     Jack put a premium on succeeding at these chosen activities. He
was a fierce competitor. “He played for keeps,” the football coach
recalled. “He did nothing half way.” Swim practice often occupied
                    44   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

four hours a day sandwiched between classes. The athletic competi-
tions gave him some gratifying moments: the freshman swim team
went undefeated, and an intercollegiate championship in sailing for
the boat he commanded sophomore year was a high point.
     Yet, as at Choate, his brother continued to eclipse him. Joe Jr. was
the best-known member of his class, and “Jack was bound to play
second-fiddle,” a Harvard contemporary and later dean of admis-
sions said. Whereas Joe was big enough and strong enough to play
varsity football, Jack, at six feet and 150 pounds, was too slight to
make more than the sophomore junior squad. Moreover, his fragile
health undermined his success as a backstroke specialist, contribut-
ing to his failure to beat out a classmate for the starting assignment
in the Yale swim meet.
     His brother’s success in campus politics also reduced any hopes
Jack may have had of making a mark in that area. Under an unstated
family rule of primogeniture, the eldest son had first call on a politi-
cal career. And Joe Jr. left no doubt that this was already his life’s
ambition. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, one of Joe’s tutors,
remembered him as keenly interested in politics and public affairs
and quick to cite his father as the source of his beliefs. “When I
become President, I will take you up to the White House with me,”
he liked to tell people. Joe’s quick rise to prominence on campus
gave resonance to his boasts. He won elections as chairman of
the Winthrop House committee, as a class representative to the stu-
dent council, as an usher for Class Day, and as business manager of
the class album. He also enjoyed prominence as an outspoken anti-
interventionist in the emerging troubles abroad.
     Although very much in his brother’s shadow during his fresh-
man and sophomore years, Jack also gave indications that he had
more than a passing interest in public issues. A failed bid for a stu-
dent council seat suggested that he was not content to leave politics
entirely to his father and brother or that he was focused solely on
high jinks. Moreover, his academic work began to demonstrate a
substantial engagement with political leadership and how influen-
tial men changed the world. Economics, English, history, and gov-
ernment courses formed the core of his first two-year curriculum.
In March 1937, his freshman adviser noted that Jack “is planning to
do work in Gov. He has already spent time abroad studying it. His
father is in that work.” He read several books on recent international
and political history, and more revealing, he wrote papers on King
Francis I of France and Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques
                      An Unfinished Life    #   45

Rousseau. His essays focused on the uses of political and intellectual
power to alter human relations, Francis I being notable to Jack as
someone who had made himself the “undisputed and absolute”
ruler of France and the architect of the French Renaissance, and
Rousseau was the author of works that Jack saw as “the seeds of the
revolution that took place in 1789.”

JACK’S GREATEST SUCCESS in his first two years at Harvard was in
winning friends and proving to be “a lady’s man.” He made a posi-
tive impression on almost everyone he met. “A gangling young man
with a slightly snub nose and ‘a lot of flap in his reddish-brown
hair,’ ” Jack etched himself in the memory of one classmate who
saw him climbing the stairs of the Crimson building “with his long
coltish stride.” One professor remembered “his bright young face
which stood out in the class.” According to the master of John
Winthrop House, who interviewed Jack and reviewed his request for
a transfer there in 1937 from Weld Hall, he was a “good boy,” one of
the “most popular at Weld,” and “one of [the] most popular men
in his class.” John Kenneth Galbraith remembered Jack as “hand-
some . . . gregarious, given to various amusements, much devoted to
social life and affectionately and diversely to women.”
     “We are having one hell of a fine time,” Jack wrote Billings after
arriving on campus and reconnecting with some Choate friends. “I
am now known as ‘Play-boy,’ ” he wrote again in October. Jack was
“very humorous, very bright, very unassuming,” said Torbert Mac-
donald, his closest Harvard friend, who became a star back on the
football team. “Anytime you were with Jack Kennedy you would
laugh,” another athlete friend recalled. Lem Billings agreed: “Jack
was more fun than anyone I’ve ever known, and I think most people
who knew him felt the same way about him.” His irreverence partic-
ularly endeared him to classmates, who shared a certain distaste for
the social hierarchy of which they themselves were so much a part.
     Jack’s discovery that girls liked him or that he had a talent for
charming them gave him special satisfaction. As early as the summer
of 1934, when he was seventeen, he had become aware that young
women were attracted to him, reporting to Billings that the girl next
door on the Cape had called from Cleveland to ask about his health.
“I can’t help it,” he declared with evident self-pleasure. “It can’t be
my good looks because I’m not much handsomer than anybody
else. It must be my personality.”
     His letters to Billings over the next few years, especially through
                   46   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

his sophomore year at Harvard, contain numerous references to
his sexual exploits. Some of this was adolescent bragging. “I had an
enema given by a beautiful blonde,” he wrote Billings during a hos-
pital stay in June 1934. “That, my sweet, is the height of cheap
thrills.” “The nurses here are the dirtiest bunch of females I’ve ever
seen,” he wrote a few days later. “One of them wanted to know if I
would give her a work out last night. . . . I said yes but she was put
off duty early.” During his first two years at Harvard, Jack had a
series of conquests he graphically described to Billings. He worried
that one of his weekend outings might mean “a bundle from
heaven. Please keep all this under your skin and I wish now I had
kept mine under my skin if you know what I mean. I would have
less worries.” But it did not deter him. “I can now get my tail as
often and as free as I want which is a step in the right direction,” he
told Billings a few months later.
     In rereading this correspondence years later, Billings categorized
the letters as “dirty,” “very dirty,” or “not so dirty.” But he under-
stood that there was more here than some adolescent rite of passage
by a young man with a strong sexual appetite. “He was interested,
very interested, in girls,” Billings remembered. But it was also “a
form of being successful at something.” It was “important to him,”
because it was an area in which he held an advantage over his
brother and Billings and most of his other peers. At a wedding recep-
tion, Lem wrote Jack’s sister Kathleen, “brother John was right in his
element as he found Dotty Burns & Missy Greer there — all anxious
to hear about how Marlene Dietrich thinks he’s one of the most fas-
cinating & attractive young men she’s ever met.”
     When Billings told him that he was so successful with women
only “because he was Joseph P. Kennedy’s son, since his father was
pretty well known as a very rich man,” Jack was determined to prove
him wrong. He insisted that they take out blind dates and change
identities. “I was to be Jack Kennedy and he was LeMoyne Billings.
He went so far as to get his father’s Rolls for the occasion. We had
one very competitive night trying to see who would do better and
I’m afraid, as I recall, he was satisfied with the results.”
     A normal adolescent appetite and the competitive advantage
over brother Joe and other rivals are only part of the explanation for
Jack’s preoccupation with sexual conquests. Although it is impos-
sible to know exactly how much Jack knew about Joe’s extramarital
affairs, or when he first learned of them, it is clear that by the time
                      An Unfinished Life    #   47

he was at Harvard, Jack had a pretty good idea that his father, who
was often away in New York, Hollywood, and Europe on business,
was quite the man about town. Certainly by the time he was twenty-
three, according to one girlfriend, Jack knew about his father’s infi-
delities. “He said his father went on these long trips, was gone so
much of the time, and that he’d come back and give his mother
some very lavish presents — a big Persian rug or some jewelry or
something like that. Obviously, Jack knew everything that was going
on in [his parents’] marriage.”
     Stories about his grandfather Fitzgerald further buttressed Jack’s
understanding of how elastic certain rules might be. At the very least,
it is evident that Joe had no objection to Jack’s active social life and
even facilitated it. In October 1936, Jack told Billings that he “went
down to the Cape with five guys from school — EM [Edward Moore,
Joe Sr.’s administrative assistant and confidant] got us some girls thru
another guy — four of us had dates and one guy got fucked 3 times,
another guy 3 times (the girl a virgin!) + myself twice — they were
all on the football team + I think the coaches heard as they gave
us all a hell of a bawling out.” This enthusiastic defiance of public
standards of sexual behavior would be another link between father
and son. Jack told “locker room stories about his father’s conquests.”
Jack once described how Joe tried to get into bed one night with one
of his sisters’ friends, whispering to her as he began removing his
robe, “This is going to be something you’ll always remember.” Jack,
with an amused smile, would tell female visitors to Palm Beach or
Hyannis Port, “Be sure to lock the bedroom door. The Ambassador
has a tendency to prowl late at night.”
     Of course, Joe’s sexual escapades were an abuse of someone as
devout and conventional as Rose. She took exception to even the
slightest off-color story. Any acknowledgment of infidelity carried on
under her roof before the eyes of her children was impossible. But
Jack and his siblings were more sympathetic to Joe than to Rose in
this family conflict. They not only accepted their father’s philan-
dering at Palm Beach and Hyannis but facilitated it away from
home. A Washington, D.C., socialite recounted the occasion in the
1940s when Joe Sr., Jack, and Robert Kennedy invited her to their
table in a posh restaurant. The boys explained that Joe would be
in town for a few days and “needed female companionship. They
wondered whom I could suggest, and they were absolutely serious.”
Similarly, when Joe visited Hollywood in the 1950s, his daughter
                    48   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Patricia, who was married to actor Peter Lawford, would ask the wife
of a television producer to get the names and phone numbers of
female stars her father might call.
     Certainly the risk taking was part of the appeal for Jack. The fact
that the football coaches gave him and his friends hell did not deter
him from planning to go “down next week for a return perfor-
mance.” In fact, in response to Jack’s “little party,” the coaches de-
moted him to the third team, which angered him but did not alter
his social life. Nor did the possibility that he and his friends might
have gotten one or more of the girls pregnant or contracted a sexu-
ally transmitted disease hold him back. “One guy is up at the doc-
tor’s seeing if he has a dose,” he wrote Billings, “+ I feel none too
secure myself.” Yet taking chances and breaking rules were partly
what made life fun; and at age nineteen, he was enjoying himself
too much to stop.
     Jack’s easy conquests compounded the feeling that, like the
member of a privileged aristocracy, of a libertine class, he was en-
titled to seek out and obtain what he craved, instantly, even grate-
fully, from the object of his immediate affection. Furthermore, there
did not have to be a conflict between private fun and public good.
David Cecil’s The Young Melbourne, a 1939 biography of Queen Vic-
toria’s prime minister, depicted young British aristocrats performing
heroic feats in the service of queen and country while privately prac-
ticing unrestrained sexual indulgence with no regard for the conven-
tional standards of monogamous marriages or premarital courting.
Jack would later say that it was one of his two favorite books.
     One woman reporter remembered that Jack “didn’t have to lift
a finger to attract women; they were drawn to him in battalions.”
After Harvard, when he spent a term in the fall of 1940 at Stanford
(where, unlike at Harvard, men and women attended classes to-
gether), he wrote Lem Billings: “Still can’t get use to the co-eds but
am taking them in my stride. Expect to cut one out of the herd and
brand her shortly, but am taking it very slow as do not want to be
known as the beast of the East.”
     But restraint was usually not the order of the day. He had so
many women, he could not remember their names; “Hello, kid,”
was his absentminded way of greeting a current amour. Stories are
legion — no doubt, some the invention of imagination, but others
most probably true — of his self-indulgent sexual escapades. “We
have only fifteen minutes,” he told a beautiful co-ed invited to his
                      An Unfinished Life   #   49

hotel room during a campaign stop in 1960. “I wish we had time for
some foreplay,” he told another beauty he dated in the 1950s. One
of Jack’s favorite sayings, one male friend said, was “slam, bam,
thank you, ma’am.” A woman friend described him as “compulsive
as Mussolini. Up against the wall, Signora, if you have five minutes,
that sort of thing.” At a society party in New York he asked the artist
William Walton how many women in the gathering of socialites
he had slept with. When Walton gave him “a true count,” Jack said,
“Wow, I envy you.” Walton replied: “Look, I was here earlier than
you were.” And Jack responded, “I’m going to catch up.”

JACK’S DEVIL-MAY-CARE ATTITUDE found a fresh outlet in the sum-
mer of 1937 when his father sent him and Billings on a grand Euro-
pean tour. Because Billings could not afford the trip, Jack financed
it. The journey was a kind of obligatory excursion for young gentle-
men, an extension of the formal education they were getting at the
best colleges in America. A firsthand acquaintance with the great
sites of western Europe was a prerequisite for high social status. And
Jack and Lem left few architectural wonders and major museums
unvisited. Moreover, both of them took genuine satisfaction from
schooling themselves in the great landmarks of the Old World. Their
travels, as the old saw has it, were broadening. Ironically, Jack re-
mained closed off from entire strata of society — blue-collar workers
and African Americans — he would not glimpse until much later.
Even then, he would find them difficult to viscerally understand.
     Perhaps most important, the trip deepened Jack’s interest in
foreign affairs. A diary he kept of the two months they spent abroad
is largely a running commentary on public events and national char-
acter. They went first to France, where they spent the month of July
touring in a convertible Jack brought across the Atlantic on the
SS Washington. Taking in the sights of Beauvais, Rouen, Paris, Ver-
sailles, Chartres, Orléans, Amboise, Angoulême, St.-Jean-de-Luz,
Lourdes, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Cannes, Biarritz, and Marseille, they
also made a point of visiting World War I battlefields. Jack spoke as
often as possible with Frenchmen about current events. He sounded
them out on developments in America under Roosevelt’s New Deal
and in Europe, where Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy raised concerns
about another European war. Jack gained the impression “that while
they all like Roosevelt, his type of government would not succeed
in a country like France which seems to lack the ability of seeing a
                    50   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

problem as a whole. They don’t like [Premier Léon] Blum as he takes
away their money and gives it to someone else — that to a French-
man is tres mauvais. The general impression also seems to be that
there will not be a war in the near future and that France is much too
well prepared for Germany. The permanence of the alliance of Ger-
many and Italy is also questionable.” Billings later remembered that
they spent a lot of time visiting churches and museums and “inter-
viewing French peasants in schoolboy French. We wanted to see
what they thought of the Germans. They were so confident of the
Maginot Line,” the fortresses on the Franco-German border.
     “The distinguishing mark of the Frenchman,” Jack noted in his
diary, “is his cabbage breath and the fact that there are no bath-
tubs.” He was even more annoyed by their readiness to exploit
American tourists for everything they could get. When they had din-
ner with a French officer they had picked up on their drive to Paris,
Jack noted that he had “succeeded in making him pay for part of it.”
He was particularly incensed by the efforts of hotels to squeeze
higher rates out of them. “Have now acquired the habit,” he wrote
on their fourth day in France, ”of leaving the car around the block
to keep the [hotel] price from going up. Had the lights [on the car]
fixed and got another screwing. These French will try & rob at every
turn.” “France,” he concluded, “is quite a primitive nation.”
     He had no better opinion of the Spanish. The stories of atroci-
ties in the Spanish civil war between Francisco Franco’s fascist rebels
and the republican government in Madrid told to them by refugees
in France seemed all too believable after they witnessed the bar-
barism of a bullfight in Biarritz on the Franco-Spanish border. “Very
interesting but very cruel,” Jack recorded, “especially when the bull
gored the horse. Believe all the atrocity stories now as these south-
erners, such as these French and Spanish, are happiest at scenes of
cruelty. They thought funniest sight was when horse ran out of the
ring with his guts trailing.” Billings later said, “Of course, we didn’t
understand this temperament at all, and we were disgusted by it.”
     The Italians made a better first impression on Jack. Their “streets
are much more full and lively than those of France — and the whole
race seems more attractive. Fascism seems to treat them well,” he
wrote after two days in Italy. He was also “very impressed by some
of the [twelve-year-old] children [his brother] Bobby’s age and by
the fact that they all seem regimented.” Billings remembered that
“Italy was cleaner and the people looked more prosperous than we
had anticipated.” Within a few days, however, Jack was complaining
                      An Unfinished Life   #   51

that “the Italians are the noisiest race in existence — they have to be
[in] on everything — even if it is only Billings blowing his nose.” By
the time he left Italy, Jack saw the Italians as being as exploitive as
the French. A battle with their hotel proprietor over the bill marked
their departure from Rome. The man “turned out to be a terrific
crook despite,” Jack wrote sarcastically, “[being] an Italian and a
gentleman. Left Rome amidst the usual cursing porters.”
     The Germans were even worse. Though they picked up some
young German hitchhikers in Italy who seemed attractive enough, a
conceit and near contempt for Americans in Germany offended
them. “We had a terrible feeling about Germany,” Billings recalled,
“and all the ‘Heil Hitler’ stuff. . . . They were extremely arrogant —
the whole race was arrogant — the whole feeling of Germany was
one of arrogance: the feeling that they were superior to us and want-
ing to show it.” The Germans were “insufferable,” Billings also said.
“We just had awful experiences there. They were so haughty and so
sure of themselves.” To mock them, Jack and Lem would answer
Nazi salutes of “Heil Hitler” by throwing back their hands and say-
ing, “Hi ya, Hitler.”
     Of greater interest to Jack than the flaws he saw in each of these
countries was the state of current relations among them and the
likely course of future events. He also began to see how easy it was
to fall into a distorted view of public affairs based more on personal
bias than on informed understanding. In this he was starting to dis-
tance himself from his father, who saw the outside world primarily
in personal terms.
     Questions about international relations and Europe’s future
intrigued Jack. He understood that the Spanish civil war was a focus
for national rivalries between England, France, Italy, Germany, and
Russia. England did not want the Mediterranean to become “a Fas-
cist lake,” he noted. But how far it or any of the other countries
would go to advance their respective interests seemed open to ques-
tion. Because the competing nations seemed so intolerant of one
another, Jack believed it likely that they would fight another war. He
also pondered the comparative evils of fascism and communism.
Whatever the advantages of one over the other, he concluded that
“Fascism is the thing for Germany and Italy, Communism for Russia,
and democracy for America and England.”
     His curiosity about European power politics moved him to seek
out Arnaldo Cortesi, the New York Times correspondent in Rome.
Jack thought him “very interesting and [he] gave me some very good
                    52   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

points.” Cortesi believed a war “unlikely as if anyone had really
wanted war there had been plenty of excuses for it. . . . Said Europe
was too well prepared for war now — in contrast to 1914.” Jack also
read John Gunther’s 1937 book Inside Europe, which he found illu-
minating, especially with regard to the Spanish civil war. But Jack
did not take Cortesi’s or Gunther’s opinions as gospel. His trip
showed him that Europe was in flux and that the continent’s politi-
cal future was uncertain. At the end of his diary, he posed a series of
questions to himself. Would Mussolini’s current popularity hold up
after invading Ethiopia in 1935 and provoking widespread inter-
national criticism? Would Franco be able to win his civil war with-
out Italo-German support? Could Germany and Italy, which had
divergent interests, maintain an alliance? Did British military strength
made a war less likely? And would fascism be possible in as wealthy
and egalitarian a country as the United States?
     Jack’s queries were as sophisticated as those of professional jour-
nalists and diplomats in Europe. They were also part of an under-
standable search by a bright, inquiring young man for a niche that
separated him from his father and elder brother and satisfied an
affinity for critical thinking about public affairs. Joe Sr. was the fam-
ily’s moneymaking genius and Joe Jr. might be slated for a meteoric
career in U.S. domestic politics, but Jack could imagine himself as the
New York Times man in a major European capital, probing current
realities and educating isolationist Americans about a world they
wished to ignore.
     Given how much the French, Germans, Italians, and Spanish
offended him, it is puzzling that Jack did not embrace the prevailing
isolationism of his father and most Americans. This may have been a
way to separate himself from his brother. But more likely, the trip
to Europe schooled him in the satisfaction of forming independent
judgments rather than giving in to easier clichés about those “for-
eigners.” He understood that despite the physical and institutional
distance between the United States and Europe, European affairs
had a large impact on the Americas. An affinity for analyzing and
explaining current conditions trumped feelings of antagonism and
bias, which he believed informed the way his father and other isola-
tionists saw the world.
     The trip also strengthened Jack’s sense of privileged status. He
and Billings ended their travels in Britain, where Joe arranged for
them to stay at palatial English and Scottish homes. “Terrific big
                     An Unfinished Life    #   53

castle with beautiful furnished rooms,” Jack said of Sir Paul Latham’s
residence in Sussex. (One bedroom was forty yards long.) Likewise,
the estate of Scottish nobleman Sir James Calder impressed Jack and
amazed Lem, who spent their visit fly-fishing and shooting rabbit
and grouse.
     For Jack, the lifestyle of these British aristocrats was not so
removed from that of his father. From July 1934 to September 1935,
when he served as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Com-
mission, Joe had lived in a sumptuous 125-acre Maryland estate half
an hour’s drive from Washington. The thirty-three-room rented man-
sion had been built by a multimillionaire Chicago businessman,
Samuel Klump Martin III, and rivaled the great homes of English
aristocrats. The living room was the size of a hotel lobby, and the
dining room was modeled after one built for King James I of En-
gland. Twelve master bedrooms, a recreation room with several bil-
liard tables and three Ping-Pong tables, a hundred-seat movie theater,
and a large outdoor swimming pool surrounded by guest bath
houses provided all the modern amenities.
     In 1937–38, at the age of twenty, Jack saw himself and his family
as a kind of American nobility. On returning home in September,
Jack learned that Fortune magazine had published a cover article
about his father, who since March had been serving as the chairman
of a newly created U.S. Maritime Commission. Then, during the fall
term, Jack had a personal victory when he received an invitation to
the Spee, one of Harvard’s eight elite clubs that included only about
a hundred out of the thousand students in the class of 1940. It was
an honor neither his father nor Joe Jr. had managed to win. “It was a
status symbol for him,” one of Jack’s classmates believed, “that at
last the Kennedys were good enough.”
     And then, in December 1937, President Roosevelt appointed
Joseph Kennedy ambassador to Great Britain, America’s most pres-
tigious diplomatic post. By choosing a self-made Irish American as
his envoy, Roosevelt assumed that he would not become a captive
of England’s conservative government and its appeasement policy
toward Hitler’s Germany.
     Whatever the president’s political purposes, the appointment
gave Joe and his family an uncommon degree of social prominence.
“The moment the appointment was proposed,” Rose said, “Joe
accepted. It was the kind of appointment he had been waiting for all
along.” Indeed, he had lobbied Roosevelt for it. When the president
                   54   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

tried to get him to become secretary of commerce instead, Joe told
Roosevelt’s son James: “London is where I want to go and it is the
only place I intend to go.” Interior Secretary Harold Ickes asked
White House insider Thomas Corcoran why Kennedy was so eager
for the London post. “You don’t understand the Irish,” Corcoran
answered. “London has always been a closed door to him. As Am-
bassador of the United States, Kennedy will have all doors open to
him.” Joe, who was not sure how long the assignment would last,
told an aide who accompanied him, “Don’t go buying a lot of lug-
gage. We’re only going to get the family in the Social Register. When
that’s done we come on back.”
     Joe’s appointment also gave Jack an uncommon opportunity to
be, however temporarily, a part of English high society. In July 1938,
at the end of his sophomore year, he traveled to London to spend
the summer working at the U.S. embassy. The work itself was less
memorable than the social whirl Jack enjoyed. He found a warm
welcome from England’s aristocracy and had ready access to the teas,
balls, dances, regattas, and races that were part of their summer
ritual. Although Jack looked “incredibly young for his age at 21,”
he engaged his English friends with his bright, quick mind, highly
developed sense of humor, and vitality about everything. In August,
the family fled London for a villa in the south of France near
Cannes, where they socialized with members of the English royal
family. A final few days in London at the end of August gave Jack a
close-up view of an evolving European crisis over Czechoslovakia,
which Hitler had provoked by demanding that Prague give up its
Sudetenland territory. In August, with the crisis unresolved, Jack
returned to the States for his junior year at Harvard.
     His summer in Europe had fired Jack’s imagination, and he was
determined to return to the Continent. He asked and received per-
mission from his advisers to take six courses in the fall term of 1938
and a semester’s leave in the spring of 1939, which he planned to
spend in Europe working on an honor’s thesis about contempo-
rary affairs. He promised his Harvard adviser that during his time
abroad, he would read several assigned books on political philoso-
phy, including Walter Lippmann’s The Good Society. He also pledged
to gather material for a senior thesis on some aspect of international
law and diplomacy or the history of international relations, which
were listed as his special fields of interest. As impressive, he turned
from a C into a B student and excelled in his government classes
during the fall term.
                      An Unfinished Life    #   55

     A. Chester Hanford, the dean of Harvard College and Jack’s
instructor in Government 9a, a course on American state govern-
ment, remembered “a rather thin, somewhat reserved but pleasant
young man with an open countenance which often wore an inquisi-
tive look. He . . . took an active part in classroom discussion in
which he made pertinent remarks.” But much to Hanford’s surprise,
the grandson of Honey Fitz showed little interest in state politics. He
“was more interested in the changing position of the American state,
in federal-state relations and state constitutional development.”
Jack’s examination papers gave evidence of independent thought
and made Hanford “wonder if he [Jack] might not become a news-
paper man.”
     Jack made an even stronger impression on Professor Arthur Hol-
combe, whose Government 7 focused on national politics and the
workings of Congress in particular. Holcombe “tried to teach . . .
government as if it were a science.” Each student was required to
study a congressman and assess his method of operation and his
performance. Holcombe urged the class to substitute objective
analysis for personal opinions, and this “scientific method” greatly
appealed to Jack, who believed that politics should rest less on opin-
ion than on facts.
     Holcombe assigned Jack to study Bertram Snell, an upstate New
York Republican whose principal distinction was his representation
of the electric power interests in his region. Holcombe said that Jack
“did a very superior job of investigating, and his final report was a
masterpiece.” Of course, Jack had some advantages. As Holcombe
noted, “When Christmas vacation came, he goes down to Washing-
ton, meets some of his father’s friends, gets a further line on his con-
gressman and on Congress.”
     When he finished the fall term, Jack made plans to sail for Eu-
rope at the end of February. First, however, he flew to New Orleans
for Mardi Gras, where he was met at the airport by a girl he was dat-
ing and a Princeton friend, who was impressed that Jack had come
by plane: “Not many people flew in those days,” the friend recalled.
But Jack did, and then flew back to New York before boarding a lux-
ury liner for Europe.
     Although his father’s public image had taken a downturn in the
fall of 1938, when he publicly expressed favor for Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany at Munich,
Jack felt no discomfort with his father’s political pronouncements or
his family identity. Although his father’s pro-Chamberlain speech
                    56   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

“seemed to be unpopular with the Jews, etc.,” he wrote his parents,
“[it] was considered to be very good by everyone who wasn’t bitterly
anti-Fascist.” A new play, which he saw in New York and included
several references to the Kennedys, greatly amused Jack. “It’s pretty
funny,” he reported in the same letter, “and jokes about us get the
biggest laughs whatever that signifies.”
     As soon as he arrived in London, Jack resumed “having a great
time,” he wrote Billings. He was working every day and “feeling very
important as I go to work in my new cutaway.” He met the king “at a
Court Levee. It takes place in the morning and you wear tails. The
King stands & you go up and bow. Met Queen Mary and was at tea
with the Princess Elizabeth with whom I made a great deal of time.
Thursday night — am going to Court in my new silk breeches,
which are cut to my crotch tightly and in which I look mighty attrac-
tive. Friday I leave for Rome as J.P. has been appointed to represent
Roosevelt at the Pope’s coronation.”
     When he returned from Rome in late March, Jack reported to
Billings that they had had “a great time.” His youngest brother,
Teddy, had received Communion from the new pope, Pius XII, “the
first time that a Pope has ever done this in the last couple of hun-
dred years.” The pope then gave the Sacrament to Joe, Jack, and his
sister Eunice “at a private mass and all in all it was very impressive.”
For all the sense of importance Jack gained from his father’s promi-
nence and influence, he kept an irreverent sense of perspective that
allowed him to see the comical side of his family’s social climbing.
He wrote Billings: “They want to give Dad the title of Duke which
will be hereditary and go to all of his family which will make me
Duke John of Bronxville and perhaps if you suck around sufficiently
I might knight you.” (In fact, Joe had a sense of limits about what an
American public official could do and had no intention of asking
the required permission of Congress to accept a title of nobility.)
     Jack’s letters to Billings over the next several months describe a
young man enjoying his privileged life. On the way back from Rome,
he had stopped at the Paris embassy, where he had lunch with
Carmel Offie, Ambassador William Bullitt’s principal aide, and was
invited by them to stay at Bullitt’s residence. He “graciously de-
clined,” as he wanted to get back to London for the Grand National
steeplechase before returning to Paris for a month and then traveling
to “Poland, Russia, etc.” As of this writing in March, he was not
doing “much work but have been sporting around in my morning
coat, my ‘Anthony Eden’ black Homburg and white gardenia.”
                      An Unfinished Life    #   57

     Two weeks later, he told Billings that he was “living like a king”
at the Paris embassy, where Offie and he had become “the greatest of
pals” and Bullitt had been very nice to him. He had lunch at the
embassy with the famed aviator and isolationist Charles Lindbergh
and his wife, Anne, “the most attractive couple I’ve ever seen.” He
was “going skiing for a week in Switzerland which should be damn
good fun.” Apparently, it was: “Plenty of action here, both on and
off the skis,” he told Billings in a postcard. “Things have been hum-
ming since I got back from skiing,” he next wrote Lem. “Met a gal
who used to live with the Duke of Kent and who is as she says ‘a
member of the British Royal family by injections.’ She has terrific
diamond bracelet that he gave her and a big ruby that the Marajah
[sic] of Nepal gave her. I don’t know what she thinks she is going to
get out of me but will see. Meanwhile very interesting as am seeing
life.” And he was still living “like a king” at the embassy, where
Bullitt “really fixes me up,” and Offie and he were served by “about
30 lackies.” Bullitt, Jack wrote, was always “trying, unsuccessfully, to
pour champagne down my gullett [sic].”
     But however welcoming Bullitt and Offie were, Jack did not like
feeling dependent on their hospitality. He must have also sensed
some hostility from Offie, who remembered “Jack sitting in my
office and listening to telegrams being read or even reading various
things which actually were none of his business but since he was
who he was we didn’t throw him out.” Jack privately reciprocated
the irritation: “Offie has just rung for me,” he wrote Lem, “so I guess
I have to get the old paper ready and go in and wipe his arse.”
     For all the fun, Jack had a keen sense of responsibility about
using his uncommon opportunity to gather information for a senior
thesis. Besides, the highly charged European political atmosphere,
which many predicted would soon erupt in another war, fascinated
him. However much he kept Lem Billings posted on his social tri-
umphs, his letters to Lem and to his father in London were filled
with details about German intentions toward Poland and the likely
reactions of Britain, France, Russia, Romania, and Turkey. “The whole
thing is damn interesting,” he told Billings. He found himself in the
eye of the storm, traveling to Danzig and Warsaw in May, where he
spoke to Nazi and Polish officials, and then on to Leningrad,
Moscow, Kiev, Bucharest, Turkey, Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and
Athens. He received VIP treatment from the U.S. diplomatic mis-
sions everywhere he went, staying at a number of embassies along
the way and talking with senior diplomats, including Ambassador
                    58   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

Anthony Biddle in Warsaw and Charles E. Bohlen, the second secre-
tary in Moscow.
     Jack spent August traveling among England, France, Germany,
and Italy in pursuit of more information for his senior thesis. He
and Torbert MacDonald, his Harvard roommate who had come to
England for a track meet, met fierce hostility in Munich from storm
troopers who spotted the English license plates on their car. Against
the advice of the U.S. embassy in Prague, Joe Kennedy arranged a
visit by Jack to Czechoslovakia. The diplomat George F. Kennan, who
was serving as a secretary of the legation, remembered how “furious”
members of the embassy were at the demand. Joe Kennedy’s “son
had no official status and was, in our eyes, obviously an upstart and
an ignoramus. The idea that there was anything he could learn or
report about conditions in Europe which we . . . had not already
reported seemed . . . wholly absurd. That busy people should have
their time taken up arranging his tour struck us as outrageous.” Jack
saw matters differently, believing a firsthand look at Prague, now
under Nazi control, would be invaluable, and his sense of entitle-
ment left him indifferent to the complaints of the embassy.
     In keeping with the peculiar way in which he moved between
the serious and the frivolous at this time of his life, Jack spent part of
August on the French Riviera, where his family had again rented a
villa for the summer at Antibes. There he socialized with the famous
movie actress Marlene Dietrich and her family, swimming with her
daughter during the day and dancing with Marlene herself at night.
     But the good times came to an abrupt end in September when
Hitler invaded Poland and the British and the French declared war.
Jack joined his parents and his brother Joe and sister Kathleen in
the visitor’s gallery to watch Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
and members of Parliament, including Winston Churchill, explain
Britain’s decision to fight. Churchill’s speech, giving evidence of the
powerful oratory that would later inspire the nation in the darkest
hours of the war, left an indelible impression on Jack. To Joe, the
onset of war was an unprecedented disaster. He became tearful when
Chamberlain declared that “everything that I have believed in during
my public life has crashed in ruins.” In a telephone call to FDR, the
inconsolable Joe Kennedy moaned, “It’s the end of the world . . . the
end of everything.”
     Jack now also got his first experience of hands-on diplomacy.
His father sent him to Glasgow to attend to more than two hundred
American citizens rescued by a British destroyer after their British
                      An Unfinished Life    #   59

liner carrying 1,400 passengers from Liverpool to New York had
been sunk by a German submarine. More than a hundred people
had lost their lives, including twenty-eight U.S. citizens. The surviv-
ing Americans were terrified at the suggestion that they board a U.S.
ship without a military escort to ensure their safety, and Jack’s assur-
ances that President Roosevelt and the embassy were confident that
Germany would not attack a U.S. ship did not convince them.
Although Jack recommended to his father that he try to meet the
passengers’ demand, Joe believed it superfluous, and an unescorted
U.S. freighter returned the citizens to the United States. Meanwhile,
Jack flew on a Pan Am Clipper to Boston in time for his senior
fall term.
     More than anything, Jack’s travels encouraged an intellectual’s
skepticism about the limits of human understanding and beliefs.
When he returned to America in September, he asked a Catholic
priest: “I saw the rock where our Lord ascended into Heaven in a
cloud, and [in] the same area, I saw the place where Mohammed
was carried up to Heaven on a white horse, and Mohammed has a
big following and Christ has a big following, and why do you think
we should believe Christ any more than Mohammed?” The priest
urged Joe to get Jack some “instruction immediately, or else he would
turn into a[n] . . . atheist if he didn’t get some of his problems
straightened out.” When a friend at Harvard who thought Jack less
than pious about his religion asked why he was going to church on a
holy day, Jack “got this odd, hard look on his face” and replied,
“This is one of the things I do for my father. The rest I do for
     It was all part of Jack’s affinity for skepticism, which Payson S.
Wild, one of his instructors in the fall of 1939, helped foster in a
tutorial on political theory. Wild urged him to consider the question
of why, given that there are a few people at the top and masses
below, the masses obey. “He seemed really intrigued by that,” Wild
     Jack gave expression to his independence — to his developing
impulse to question prevailing wisdom — in an October 1939 edi-
torial in the Harvard Crimson. Responding to the impression that
“everyone here is ready to fight to the last Englishman,” Jack pub-
lished a counterargument in the campus newspaper that essentially
reflected the case his father was then making privately to President
Roosevelt and the State Department. As much an expression of loy-
alty to Joe as of pleasure in running against majority opinion and
                     60   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

presenting himself as someone with special understanding of inter-
national conditions, Jack urged a quick, negotiated end to the fight-
ing through the good offices of President Roosevelt. Because it
would require a third party to mediate a settlement, Jack thought
that the “President is almost under an obligation to exert every office
he possesses to bring about such a peace.”
     Jack believed that both Germany and England were eager for an
agreement. And though such a settlement would mean sacrificing
Poland, it would likely save Britain and France from probable de-
feat. But it would have to be a “peace based on solid reality,” Jack
asserted, which meant giving Germany a “free economic hand” in
eastern Europe and a share of overseas colonies. Hitler would have
to disarm in return for these conditions, but Jack did not think this
was out of reach.
     Jack’s misplaced hopes seem to have been more a case of taking
issue with current assumptions than an expression of realism about
European affairs developed in his recent travels. Nevertheless, his
interest in exploring political questions — in honing his skills as a
student of government — is striking. “He seemed to blossom once
Joe was gone [to law school] and to feel more secure himself and to
be more confident as his grades improved,” Wild said. As another
token of Jack’s interest and vocational aspirations in 1939, he tried
to become a member of the Crimson’s editorial board; but it already
had a full complement of editors and he had to settle for a spot on
the paper’s business board. He also occasionally wrote for the paper.
An editorial in the Crimson and a speech before the YMCA and YWCA
on how to restore peace made him feel like “quite a seer around
here.” He also joked with his father that being an ambassador’s son
who had spent time in Europe with prominent officials gave him
added cachet with the girls. “I seem to be doing better with the girls
so I guess you are doing your duty over there,“ he wrote his father,
“so before resigning give my social career a bit of consideration.”
     In the fall of 1939, Jack’s interest in public affairs reflected itself
in his course work. In four government classes, he focused on con-
temporary international politics. “The war clinched my thinking on
international relations,” he said later. “The world had to get along
together.” In addition to a course with Wild on elements of inter-
national law, he took Modern Imperialism, Principles of Politics,
and Comparative Politics: Bureaucracy, Constitutional Government,
and Dictatorship. Some papers Jack wrote for Wild’s course on neu-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   61

tral rights in wartime on the high seas made Wild think that Jack
might become an attorney, but Jack displayed a greater interest in
questions about power and the comparative workings and appeal
of fascism, Nazism, capitalism, communism, and democracy. The
challenge of distinguishing between rhetoric and realism in world
affairs, between the ideals of international law and the hard actuali-
ties of why nations acted as they did, particularly engaged him.

THE PRINCIPAL OUTCOME of Jack’s travels and course work was a
senior honor’s thesis on the origins of Britain’s appeasement policy.
The history of how Jack wrote and published the thesis provides a
microcosm of his privileged world. During Christmas vacation 1939
at Palm Beach, he spoke with British ambassador Lord Lothian, a
guest at his father’s Florida home. In January, Jack stopped at the
British embassy in Washington for a conversation with Lothian that,
as Jack later wrote him, “started me out on the job.” Taking advan-
tage of his father’s continued presence in London, Jack received
invaluable help from James Seymour, the U.S. embassy press secre-
tary, who sent him printed political pamphlets and other Conserva-
tive, Labour, and Liberal publications Jack could not obtain in the
United States. His financial means also allowed him to use typists
and stenographers to meet university deadlines.
     Although the papers Jack wrote for his senior-year courses show
an impressive capacity for academic study and analysis, it was the
contemporary scene that above all interested him — in particular,
the puzzle of how a power like Great Britain found itself in another
potentially devastating war only twenty years after escaping from the
most destructive conflict in history. Was it something peculiar to a
democracy that accounted for this failure, or were forces at work
here beyond any government’s control?
     With only three months to complete the project, Jack committed
himself with the same determination he had shown in fighting for a
place on the Harvard football and swimming teams. Some of his
Harvard friends remembered how he haunted the library of the Spee
Club, where he worked on the thesis. They teased him about his
“book,” poking fun at his seriousness and pretension at trying to
write a groundbreaking work. “We used to tease him about it all the
time,” one of them said, “because it was sort of his King Charles
head that he was carrying around all the time: his famous thesis. We
got so sick of hearing about it that I think he finally shut up.”
                   62   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     Seymour proved a fastidious research assistant who not only
persuaded the English political parties to provide the publications
Jack requested but also chased down books and articles on the sub-
ject at Chatham House, the Oxford University Press, and the British
Museum Reading Room. Seymour’s efforts initially produced six
large packages sent by diplomatic pouch to the State Department
and then to Joe’s New York office. But Jack was not content with Sey-
mour’s initial offering and pressed him for more: “Rush pacifist lit-
erature Oxford Cambridge Union report, etc.,” he cabled Seymour
on February 9, “all parties business trade reports bearing on foreign
policy[,] anything else.” “Dear Jack, your cables get tougher,” Sey-
mour replied, but by the end of the month Jack had an additional
twenty-two volumes of pamphlets and books.
     The thesis of 148 pages, titled “Appeasement at Munich” and
cumbersomely subtitled (“The Inevitable Result of the Slowness of
Conversion of the British Democracy to Change from a Disarma-
ment Policy to a Rearmament Policy”), was written in about two
months with predictable writing and organizational problems and
an inconsistent focus. The thesis was read by four faculty members.
Although Professor Henry A. Yeomans saw it as “badly written,” he
also described it as “a laborious, interesting and intelligent dis-
cussion of a difficult question” and rated it magna cum laude, the
second-highest possible grade. Professor Carl J. Friedrich was more
critical. He complained: “Fundamental premise never analyzed.
Much too long, wordy, repetitious. Bibliography showy, but spotty.
Title should be British armament policy up to Munich. Reasoning re:
Munich inconclusive. . . . Many typographical errors. English diction
defective.” On a more positive note, Friedrich said, “Yet, thesis shows
real interest and reasonable amount of work, though labor of con-
densation would have helped.” He scored the work a cut below Yeo-
mans as cum laude plus.
     Bruce C. Hopper and Payson Wild, Jack’s thesis advisers, were
more enthusiastic about the quality of his work. In retrospective
assessments, Wild remembered Jack as “a deep thinker and a gen-
uine intellectual” whose thesis had “normal problems” but not
“great” ones; Hopper recalled Jack’s “imagination and diligence in
preparedness as outstanding as of that time.” On rereading the thesis
twenty-four years later, Hopper was “again elated by the maturity of
judgment, beyond his years in 1939/1940, by his felicity of phrase,
and graceful presentation.”
                       An Unfinished Life    #   63

     Yeomans and Friedrich were closer to the mark in their assess-
ments. So was political scientist James MacGregor Burns, whose
campaign biography of JFK in 1960 described the thesis as “a typi-
cal undergraduate effort — solemn and pedantic in tone, bristling
with statistics and footnotes, a little weak in spelling and sentence
structure.” Yet it was an impressive effort for so young a man who
had never written anything more than a term paper.
     Had John Kennedy never become a prominent world figure, his
thesis would be little remembered. But because it gives clues to the
development of his interest and understanding of foreign affairs, it
has become a much discussed text. Two things seem most striking
about the work: First, Jack’s unsuccessful effort at a scientific or
objective history, and second, his attempt to draw a contemporary
lesson for America from Britain’s failure to keep pace with German
military might.
     His objective, he states throughout the thesis, was to neither
condemn nor excuse Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville
Chamberlain, but rather to get beyond assertions of blame and
defense in order to understand what had happened. Yet Jack’s reach
for objectivity is too facile. Though his thesis is indeed an interesting
analysis of what caused Britain to act as it did at Munich, it is also
quite clearly a defense of Baldwin, Chamberlain, and the appeasers.
Jack argues that Britain’s failure to arm itself in the thirties forced it
into the appeasement policy at Munich but that this failure was
principally the consequence not of weak leadership on the part of
the two prime ministers but of popular resistance led by the paci-
fists, advocates of collective security through the League of Nations,
opponents of greater government spending, and shortsighted domes-
tic politicians stressing narrow self-interest over larger national needs.
No one who knew anything about Joe Kennedy’s pro-Chamberlain,
pro-Munich views could miss the fact that the thesis could be read
partly as a defense of Joe’s controversial position. Carl Friedrich pri-
vately said that the thesis should have been titled “While Daddy
     Yet dismissing the thesis as simply an answer to Joe’s critics is to
miss Jack’s compelling central argument — one originally made by
Alexis de Tocqueville over a hundred years before: Popular rule does
not readily lend itself to the making of effective foreign policy. De-
mocracies, Jack asserts, have a more difficult time than dictatorships
in mobilizing resources for their defense. Only when a pervasive fear
                    64   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

of losing national survival takes hold can a democracy like Britain or
the United States persuade its citizens “to give up their personal
interests, for the greater purpose. In other words, every group [in
Britain] wanted rearmament but no group felt that there was any
need for it to sacrifice its privileged position. This feeling in 1936
was to have a fatal influence in 1938” at Munich.
     Jack saw his thesis as a cautionary message to Americans, who
needed to learn from Britain’s mistakes. “In this calm acceptance of
the theory that the democratic way is the best . . . lies the danger,”
Jack wrote. “Why, exactly, is the democratic system better? . . . It is
better because it allows for the full development of man as an in-
dividual. But . . . this only indicates that democracy is a ‘pleasanter’
form of government — not that it is the best form of government for
meeting the present world problem. It may be a great system of gov-
ernment to live in internally but it’s [sic] weaknesses are great. We
wish to preserve it here. If we are to do so, we must look at situa-
tions much more realistically than we do now.”
     What seems most important now about Kennedy’s thesis is the
extent to which he emphasizes the need for unsentimental realism
about world affairs. Making judgments about international dangers
by ignoring them or wishing them away is as dangerous as unthink-
ing hostility to foreign rivals who may be useful temporary allies.
Personal, self-serving convictions are as unconstructive as outdated
ideologies in deciding what best serves a nation’s interests. Although
he would not always be faithful to these propositions, they became
mainstays of most of his later responses to foreign challenges.
     The exploding world crisis encouraged Jack to turn his thesis
into a book. It was not common for a Harvard undergraduate to
instantly convert his honor’s paper into a major publication. As
Harold Laski told Joe, “While it is the book of a lad with brains, it is
very immature, it has no structure, and dwells almost wholly on the
surface of things. In a good university, half a hundred seniors do
books like this as part of their normal work in their final year. But
they don’t publish them for the good reason that their importance
lies solely in what they get out of doing them and not out of what
they have to say. I don’t honestly think any publisher would have
looked at that book of Jack’s if he had not been your son, and if you
had not been ambassador. And those are not the right grounds for
     However accurate Laski’s assessment of the thesis, he missed
something others in America saw — namely, that international
                      An Unfinished Life   #   65

developments made Jack’s analysis a timely appeal to millions of
Americans eager to consider a wise response to the European war.
The collapse of France had made Americans feel more vulnerable to
external attacks than at any time since the Franco-British abuse of
neutral rights during the Napoleonic Wars.
     New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, to whom Jack showed
the thesis, thought “it was amateurish in many respects but not, cer-
tainly not, as much so as most writings in that category are.” “I told
him,” Krock said, “I thought it would make a very welcome and very
useful book.” And so Krock helped Jack with stylistic revisions and
suggested a title, Why England Slept, mirroring Churchill’s While En-
gland Slept. Krock also gave Jack the name of an agent, who arranged
a contract with Wilfred Funk, a small publishing house, after Harper
& Brothers and Harcourt Brace both turned it down. Harpers thought
the manuscript already eclipsed by current events, and Harcourt
thought “sales possibilities too dim” and “things moving too fast”
for a book on the British failure at Munich to command much inter-
est in the United States.
     They were wrong, but partly because Jack made revisions to the
manuscript that gave it more balance and greater timeliness than
the original. In deciding to try for publication, Jack understood that
he needed to do it “as soon as possible, as I should get it out be-
fore . . . the issue becomes too dead.” He also accepted the recom-
mendation of several English readers that he not place so much more
blame on the public than on Baldwin and Chamberlain for Munich.
Most important, he saw the need to say less about the shortcomings
of democracy and more about its defense in present circumstances.
Hitler’s victories in Europe and the feeling that Britain might suc-
cumb to Nazi aggression made it more appealing for Jack to empha-
size not democracy’s weakness in meeting a foreign crisis but what
America could do to ensure its national security in a dangerous world.
     The book, which received almost uniformly glowing reviews and
substantial sales in the United States and Britain, demonstrated that
Jack had the wherewithal for a public career. No one, including Jack,
was then thinking in terms of any run for office. But his success
suggested that he was an astute observer of public mood and prob-
lems, especially as they related to international affairs. Neither Jack
nor Joe foresaw the precise direction Jack’s life would now take, but
Joe saw the book as a valuable first step for a young man reaching
for public influence. “I read Jack’s book through and I think it is a
swell job,” he wrote Rose. “There is no question that regardless of
                    66   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

whether he makes any money out of it or not, he will have built
himself a foundation for his reputation that will be of lasting value
to him.” And to Jack he wrote: “The book will do you an amazing
amount of good. . . . You would be surprised how a book that really
makes the grade with high-class people stands you in good stead for
years to come.”
     For his part, Jack had few, if any, illusions about the book. He
understood that circumstances more than his skill as a writer and
analyst had given the book its resonance. But he also understood
that seizing the main chance when it presented itself was not to be
despised; he was more than happy, then, to devote his summer to
publicizing and selling Why England Slept.
     Kennedy friend Charles Spalding remembers visiting Jack at the
Cape shortly after the book had appeared. “Jack was downstairs with
a whole pile of these books. . . . It was just a wonderful disarray of
papers, letters from Prime Ministers and congressmen and people
you’ve heard about, some under wet bathing suits and some under
the bed.” When Spalding asked how the book was selling, “[Jack’s]
eyes lit up and he said, ‘Oh, very well. I’m seeing to that.’ He was see-
ing that the books were handed out and he was really moving the
books. . . . It was just a sort of amusing pragmatism that he hadn’t
just written the book and then he was going to just disappear. He
was going to see that it got sold. He was just laughing at his own
success. . . . He was doing everything he could to promote it. And he
was good at that. . . . The interviews, radio programs, answering let-
ters, autographing copies, sending them out, checking bookstores.”

IN THE SUMMER OF 1940, aside from promoting his book, Jack was
at loss for what to do next. He had thoughts of attending Yale Law
School, but health problems persuaded him to temporarily abandon
such plans. In addition, he had doubts about a law career. It would
mean not only competing with brother Joe, who was enrolled at
Harvard, but also abandoning what Lem Billings called his intellec-
tual interests. “I don’t think there was any question but that he was
thinking he would go into journalism and teaching.” But like mil-
lions of other young Americans in 1940, the state of world affairs
made private decisions hostage to public developments. “There was
an awful vacuum there in 1940,” Lem remembered, “a very uncom-
fortable period for a guy who was graduating from school. I mean,
what to do? We were so damn close to going to war. . . . You didn’t
                      An Unfinished Life   #   67

know what you were going to do[,] so what was the point of getting
into any lifelong thing?” Everybody “was just sort of marking time.”
The passage of a bill in September 1940 authorizing the first peace-
time draft had put the country’s young men on notice that military
service might take precedence over personal plans.
     And so Jack went to Stanford in September to nurse himself
back to health in the warm California sun. His graduate work, which
lasted only one quarter, to December 1940, was supposed to focus
on business studies, but his courses and interests remained in politi-
cal science and international relations. A young woman he dated
while in California remembered his attentiveness to contemporary
events. “He was fascinated with the news. He always turned it on in
the car, on the radio. . . . He was intrigued by what was going on in
the world.” Another Stanford contemporary recalled Jack’s conversa-
tions with Stanford’s student body president about the nature of
effective government leadership — he pointed to FDR as a model of
how to make big changes without overturning traditional institu-
tions. This student also remembered Jack’s telling him and other
“remote westerners . . . that there was a war on, that it had been on
for a year, and that we were going to get into it.” In December, he
attended an Institute of World Affairs conference in Riverside, Cali-
fornia, on current international problems, where he acted as a “rap-
porteur” for four of the sessions: “War and the Future World
Economy,” “The Americas: Problems of Hemispheric Defense &
Security,” “War and the Preservation of European Civilization,” and
“Proposed Plans for Peace.”
     His interest in overseas affairs was more than academic. When
Joe resigned his ambassadorship in December 1940, Jack counseled
him on what to say to insulate him from charges of appeasement
and identification with Chamberlain’s failed policies. More impor-
tant, he now convinced his father not to take issue with the Lend-
Lease bill FDR proposed as a means to help Britain defeat Germany.
If we failed to give this aid now and Britain were defeated, Jack
argued, it would cost the United States much more later and might
force us into a war with Hitler, which Joe, above all, wished to avoid.
Under pressure from Roosevelt as well, Joe publicly accepted his
son’s reasoning.
     Jack’s term at Stanford was an interlude of no lasting conse-
quence. His unresolved health difficulties drew him back to the East
Coast at the start of 1941, where he busied himself for the first three
                    68   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

months of the year with finding a ghostwriter for his father’s mem-
oirs and thinking about renewing his application to Yale Law School.
But when his mother and sister Eunice went to Latin America in the
spring, Jack decided to join them and then travel on his own. He vis-
ited Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, with brief stops in Uruguay, Peru,
Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama.
    Although the trip was valuable, upon his return the direction
of Jack’s life still remained unclear. There was, however, little ques-
tion that it would sooner or later take a serious turn. However self-
indulgent, Jack had no intention of becoming a career playboy trading
on his father’s fame and influence. And Joe and Rose believed it
inconceivable for any of their children to settle for a sybaritic life.
The material benefits of their wealth were all too obvious, from the
opulent houses to the cars, clothing, jewelry, foreign travel, lavish
vacations, and parties at home and abroad with all the social lions
of their time. But a life without ambition, without some larger pur-
pose than one’s own needs and satisfaction, was never part of the
Kennedy ethos. It is one of the great ironies of this family’s saga that
however frivolous any of its members might be at one time or
another, it was impermissible to make frivolity a way of life.
    At the age of twenty-three, Jack understood that he needed a life-
work; just as important, he had considerable confidence that he
would succeed. His background and experience had created a belief
in himself as someone special, as standing apart from the many
other talented, promising young men he had met at home and
abroad. His privileged life had opened the way for his success, but
it was hardly the full measure of what would make for an uncom-
mon life.

        The Terrors of Life
        Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and
        buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have
        manned themselves to face it.
           — Ralph Waldo Emerson

DESPITE THE FAMILY’S WEALTH and palatial houses, Jack had never
seemed to feel as if he had a home, or at least a special place in one
of the houses that was exclusively his. A young woman who went
with Jack to Hyannis Port when the rest of the family was in Palm
Beach “was surprised to see him go through the empty house like an
intruder, peeking into his father’s room and looking in his dresser
draw[er]s, and picking up objects on all the surfaces as if he hadn’t
seen them before.”
     Part of the reason had to do with his mother. Rose’s absences
had always made Jack unhappy. In 1923, when he was almost six
and Rose was about to depart on a six-week trip to California, Jack
exclaimed, “Gee, you’re a great mother to go away and leave your
children all alone.” Jack, who had been apart from his parents ear-
lier for an extended hospital stay, saw any separation as a return of
that unhappy experience. And while he seemed able to tolerate his
father’s business trips, with his mother it was different. He told
LeMoyne Billings that whenever Rose announced another trip, he
openly cried, which greatly irritated her and made her more distant
than ever from her anxious son. Jack learned, as he told Billings, to
act stoically in the face of her departures. “Better to take it in stride,”
he said.
     That said, her presence wasn’t necessarily an improvement.
Rose’s insistence on rigid rules of behavior upset and angered Jack.
                     70   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

One commentator has said: “[She] organized and supervised the
large family with the institutional efficiency she had learned from
the Ursuline nuns of Sacred Heart Academy. She insisted on strict
adherence to domestic routines and an idealistic dedication to the
doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.” Lem Billings remembered
her as “a tough, constant, minute disciplinarian with a fetish for
neatness and order and decorum.” She discouraged any excessive
emotional display. Touching, personal warmth, sensuality of any
kind, was frowned on. “She was terribly religious. She was a little
removed,” Jack said as an adult. In private, he complained that Rose
never told him that she loved him. Jack’s friend Charles Spalding,
who saw the family up close, described Rose as “so cold, so distant
from the whole thing . . . I doubt if she ever rumpled the kid’s hair
in his whole life. . . . It just didn’t exist: the business of letting your
son know you’re close, that she’s there. She wasn’t.” Jacqueline Bou-
vier Kennedy told the journalist Theodore White that “history made
him [Jack] what he was . . . this lonely sick boy. His mother really
didn’t love him. . . . She likes to go around talking about being the
daughter of the Mayor of Boston, or how she was an ambassador’s
wife. . . . She didn’t love him. . . . History made him what he was.”
    In response, Jack staged minor rebellions. He refused to toe the
line on her religious concerns or follow her household rules. Once
when she instructed the children on a Good Friday to wish for a
happy death, Jack said he wanted to wish for two dogs. He occa-
sionally interrupted Rose’s recitations of Bible stories with impious
questions. What happened to the donkey Jesus had ridden into
Jerusalem on the way to his crucifixion? Jack asked. Who attended to
the donkey after Jesus was gone? Jack also expressed his antagonism
to Rose by keeping a messy room, dressing sloppily, and arriving to
meals tardy.
    His annoyance with her compulsive demands poked through
a letter he wrote in response to a round-robin note she sent to all
the children in 1941, when he was twenty-four. “I enjoy your round
robin letters,“ he answered. “I’m saving them to publish — that style
of yours will net us millions. With all this talk of inflation and where
is our money going — when I think of your potential earning
power . . . it’s enough to make a man get down on his knees and
thank God for the Dorchester High Latin School [sic] which gave
you that very sound grammatical basis which shines through every
slightly mixed metaphor and each somewhat split infinitive.”
                      An Unfinished Life     #   71

     If Jack and the other children had their tensions with Rose, they
were not the product of the child-rearing habits of a thoughtless,
selfish mother. On the contrary, Rose saw her maternal duties as a
high calling requiring considered and devoted action. “I looked on
child rearing not only as a work of love and duty,” she said, “but as a
profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any hon-
orable profession in the world, and one that demanded the best I
could bring to it.” There was in fact a professionalism to Rose’s
organization of her large family that rested on the conventional wis-
dom of the day: Dr. L. Emmett Holt’s widely read book, The Care and
Feeding of Children: A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children’s
Nurses (1934). Holt was the Dr. Benjamin Spock of the first half of
the twentieth century, and Rose closely followed his rules, which
included the need for a daily bath, regular outdoor activity, strict dis-
cipline — “spare the rod and spoil the child” — and limited displays
of affection. As Holt recommended, Rose kept file cards on her chil-
dren’s illnesses and made neatness and order a high priority, though
to little avail in Jack’s case.
     It is also essential to remember that she was burdened with a
retarded daughter who consumed a large part of her energy and
reduced her freedom to attend to and practice a more joyful give-
and-take with her other children. Rosemary, the third child, had
been born in the midst of the flu epidemic of 1918. Whether the
contagion or some genetic quirk or brain damage from inexpertly
used forceps during her delivery was the cause of her disability is im-
possible to know. By the time she was five, however, it was clear that
her physical and mental development was dramatically abnormal.
She could not feed or dress herself, had limited verbal skills, and
could not keep up with the physical activities of her siblings or her
classmates at school. Determined not to send her to an institution,
as was accepted practice at the time for “feebleminded” children,
Joe and Rose committed themselves to keeping her at home under
Rose’s supervision, helped by a special governess and several tutors.
     Rose gave the child unqualified love and attention. Eunice re-
membered the many hours Rose spent playing tennis with Rose-
mary, even though she never played with the other children.
Moreover, Rose and Joe required everyone in the family to treat
Rosemary as an equal as much as possible. The other children
responded with an attentiveness and kindness that speaks well of all
their characters and the strength of shared family purpose. To Rose,
                   72   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Rosemary’s disability was a kind of gift from God, reminding the
most fortunate that they must give as well as receive. She also
believed that Rosemary’s difficulties sensitized her other children to
the meaning of daily hardship and suffering, which was the lot not
just of the poor and underprivileged.
     Certainly for Jack, Rosemary’s retardation gave him an uncom-
mon compassion for human failings. One friend recalled that he
had “a marvelous capacity for projecting himself into other people’s
shoes. That was one of the great keys to his whole personality. He
could become a little old lady who was being embarrassed by her
husband’s conduct. I saw it happen so many times.” The friend
recounted an episode in a New York restaurant when a drunk at a
nearby table began verbally assaulting Jack, who was by then a well-
known public figure. The friend suggested that they leave, but Jack,
who sat stoically through the abuse, said, “Would you look at that
guy’s wife and what she’s going through?” The woman looked as if
she were “about to die. She was purple with embarrassment. . . .
Eventually the wife did take over and get him out of there. And,”
Jack’s friend said, “I thought that was so humane. There were loads
of things like that.”
     Jack himself was as generous toward his sister as any of the chil-
dren and undoubtedly felt as much remorse as others at her deterio-
ration in 1939–41 when she reached physical maturity. After years of
effort that had produced small gains in her ability to deal with adult
matters, Rosemary turned violent at the age of twenty-one, throw-
ing tantrums and raging at caretakers who tried to control her. In
response, Joe, without Rose’s knowledge, arranged for Rosemary to
have a prefrontal lobotomy, which contemporary medical under-
standing recommended as the best means for alleviating her agita-
tion and promising a more placid life. The surgery, however, proved
to be a disaster, and Joe felt compelled to institutionalize Rosemary
in a Wisconsin nunnery, where she would spend the rest of her life.
     Part of the family’s impulse in dealing with Rosemary as they
did was to hide the truth about her condition. In the twenties and
thirties, mental disabilities were seen as a mark of inferiority and an
embarrassment best left undisclosed. Rosemary’s difficulties were
especially hard to bear for a family as preoccupied with its glowing
image as the Kennedys. It was one thing for them to acknowledge
limitations among themselves, but to give outsiders access to such
information or put personal weaknesses on display was to open the
family to possible ridicule or attack from people all too eager to
                      An Unfinished Life   #   73

knock down Kennedy claims to superiority. Hiding family problems,
particularly medical concerns, later became a defense against jeop-
ardizing election to public office.
    Yet there was a benefit to keeping quiet about family suffering
that served Jack in particular. The corollary to not speaking openly
about family problems was bearing individual suffering stoically.
The Kennedys believed that people as fortunate as they were should
be uncomplaining about adversity. A visitor to the Hyannis Port
home remembered how one Kennedy child, seeking sympathy for
an injury suffered while playing, fell to the floor in front of Rose and
began to whine. “ ‘On your feet,’ Rose ordered. The child promptly
rose and practically stood at attention. ‘Now you know how to
behave,’ she added. ‘Go out there and behave as you know you
should.’ ” The premium placed on strength and courage as answers
to personal burdens would serve Jack well through a lifetime of
medical problems and physical suffering.

BACK IN JUNE 1934, as Jack’s junior year at Choate ended and he
began feeling ill again, Joe had sent him to the famous Mayo broth-
ers’ clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He spent a miserable month
there. “The Goddamnest hole I’ve ever seen. I wish I was back at
school,” he wrote Lem Billings. By himself at the Mayo and then
nearby St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was transferred after two weeks,
he kept his sanity and his hopes for a return to friends and family
through a series of letters to Lem. We can only imagine how endless,
painful, intrusive, and embarrassing the tests he was subjected to by
strangers must have seemed to a seventeen-year-old wrestling with
normal adolescent concerns about sex and his body. But having
learned from his parents, Jack was stoic and uncomplaining about
his difficulties. Lem Billings later told an interviewer, “We used to
joke about the fact that if I ever wrote a biography, I would call it
‘John F. Kennedy: A Medical History.’ [Yet] I seldom ever heard him
complain.” Trying to be optimistic that the doctors would figure out
his problem and restore him to health, Jack told Billings that during
a telephone conversation with his father, “he was trying to find out
what was wrong with me and for 20 minutes we were trying to
hedge around the fact that we didn’t know.”
     Judging from his letters describing the medical tests adminis-
tered to him and later medical records, Jack had “spastic colitis,”
which the doctors initially thought might be peptic ulcer disease.
They began by prescribing a diet of rice and potatoes preparatory to
                    74   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

tests Jack hoped would be over in a few days. But the exams lasted
much longer than he had anticipated. “I am suffering terribly out
here,” he wrote Billings on June 19. “I now have a gut ache all the
time. I’m still eating peas and corn for my food and I had an
enema.” He expected to be there for at least another twelve days. By
then, “I’ll be dipped in shit. . . . My bowels have utterly ceased to be
of service and so the only way that I am able to unload is for them
to blow me out from the top down or from the bottom up.”
     Two days later he told Billings: “God what a beating I’m taking.
I’ve lost 8 lbs. And still going down. . . . I’m showing them a thing or
two. Nobody able to figure what’s wrong with me. All they do is talk
about what an interesting case. It would be funny,” he declared
wishfully, “if there was nothing wrong with me. I’m commencing
to stay awake nights on that. Still don’t know when I’ll get home.
My last eight meals have been peas, corn, prunes. Pul l l lently [sic]
     Six days later he gave another graphic description of his ordeal.
He had heard that he might have to stay in the hospital until July 4.
“Shit!! I’ve got something wrong with my intestines. In other words
I shit blood.” He feared he might be dying: “My virility is being
sapped. I’m just a shell of the former man and my penis looks as if it
has been through a wringer.” The doctors were still trying to deter-
mine the cause of his illness: “I’ve had 18 enemas in 3 days!!!! I’m
clean as a whistle. They give me enemas till it comes out like drink-
ing water which,” he said in an expression of rage toward his care-
takers, “they all take a sip of. Yesterday I went through the most
harassing experience of my life. First, they gave me 5 enemas until I
was white as snow inside. Then they put me in a thing like a barber’s
chair. Instead of sitting in the chair I kneeled . . . with my head
where the seat is. They (a blonde) took my pants down!! Then they
tipped the chair over. Then surrounded by nurses the doctor first
stuck his finger up my ass. I just blushed because you know how it
is. He wiggled it suggestively and I rolled them in the aisles by saying
‘you have a good motion.’ He then withdrew his finger and then, the
shmuck, stuck an iron tube 12 inches long and 1 inch in diameter
up my ass. They had a flashlight inside it and they looked around.
Then they blew a lot of air in me to pump up my bowels. I was cer-
tainly feeling great as I know you would having a lot of strangers
looking up my asshole. Of course, when the pretty nurses did it I
was given a cheap thrill. I was a bit glad when they had their fill of
that. My poor bedraggled rectum is looking at me very reproachfully
                      An Unfinished Life   #   75

these days. . . . The reason I’m here is that they may have to cut out
my stomach — the latest news.”
     On June 30, he was “still in this God-damned furnace and it
looks like a week more.” He had become “the pet of the hospital.” It
was testimony to his extraordinary stoicism and good humor that he
had managed to charm the staff despite his ongoing ordeal. “I only
had two enemas today so I feel kind of full,” he told Billings. “They
have found something wrong with me at last. I don’t know what but
it’s probably something revolting like piles or a disease of my vital
organ. What will I say when someone asks me what I got?” His ques-
tion was not posed hypothetically. As with Rosemary, Jack and the
family were determined to hide the seriousness of his medical prob-
lems. Nothing good could come from revealing that Jack might have
some debilitating long-term illness that could play havoc with his
     All the gastrointestinal tests indicated that Jack had colitis and
digestive problems, which made it difficult for him to gain weight and
threatened worse consequences if the colon became ulcerated or bled.
In July 1944, Dr. Sara Jordan, a gastroenterologist at Boston’s Lahey
Clinic, would note that Jack’s diagnosis at the Mayo Clinic and then
at Lahey was “diffuse duodenitis and severe spastic colitis,” intes-
tinal and colonic inflammations that could become life-threatening
diseases. The premium was not only on finding a better diet for him
but also on relieving emotional stress, which in those days was as-
sumed to be a major contributor to ulcers and colitis.
     Judging from accounts of colitis therapy published in the Janu-
ary 1934 and December 1936 Mayo Clinic journal, Proceedings, the
treatment given to Jack was a combination of restricted diet and
injection or subcutaneous implant of a serum obtained from horses.
Although the clinic claimed a measure of success with this treat-
ment, it was clearly no cure-all. Indeed, in November 1935, the
American Journal of Medical Sciences recommended a “calcium and
parathyroid” therapy. The use of parathyroid extract (parathormone)
paralleled the development of adrenal-hormone extracts, which the
Mayo Clinic, along with other research centers, was then testing.
These extracts held promise in the treatment of a variety of illnesses,
including chronic spastic and ulcerated colitis. Obtaining these ex-
tracts was then very costly. “We always had adrenal extract for those
who could afford it,” Dr. George Thorn, an expert at Harvard and
Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, said in 1991. There seems no
doubt that Joe was able to pay for the medication.
                     76   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

     There are intriguing questions about Jack’s medical history that
remain difficult, if not impossible, to resolve. In 1937, the first clini-
cal use of adrenal extracts — corticosteroids, or anti-inflammatory
agents — became possible with the preparation of DOCA (desoxy-
corticosterone acetate). This drug was administered in the form of
pellets implanted under the skin. It is now well known that Jack
was treated with DOCA in 1947 after his “official” diagnosis of
Addison’s disease (a disease of the adrenal glands characterized by
a deficiency of the hormones needed to regulate blood sugar, sodium
and potassium, and the response to stress; it is named after the
nineteenth-century English physician Thomas Addison). But there
are earlier references to Jack implanting pellets. Early in 1937, in a
handwritten note to Joe, Jack worried about getting his prescrip-
tion — probably the parathyroid extract, or DOCA — filled in Cam-
bridge. “Ordering stuff here very [illegible word],” he wrote his father.
“I would be sure you get the prescription. Some of that stuff as it is
very potent and he [Jack’s doctor] seems to be keeping it pretty
quiet.” Nine years later, in 1946, Paul Fay, one of Jack’s friends,
watched him implant a pellet in his leg. He remembers Jack using “a
little knife . . . [to] just barely cut the surface of the skin, try not to
get blood, and then get underneath and put this tablet underneath
the skin, and then put a bandage over it. And then hopefully this
tablet would dissolve by the heat of the body and be absorbed by
the bloodstream.” Thus, before the diagnosis of Addison’s, Jack may
have been on steroids — still in an experimental stage, with great
uncertainty as to dosage — which may have been successfully treat-
ing his colitis, but at the possible price of stomach, back, and adre-
nal problems.
     Physicians in the 1930s and 1940s did not realize what today is
common medical knowledge: namely, that adrenal extracts are effec-
tive in treating acute ulcerative colitis but can have deleterious long-
term chronic effects, including osteoporosis with vertebral column
deterioration and peptic ulcers. In addition, chronic use of cortico-
steroids can lead to the suppression of normal adrenal function and
may have caused or contributed to Jack’s Addison’s disease.
     It is also possible that the DOCA had little impact on Jack’s back
or adrenal ailments. Unlike synthetic corticosteroids, which did not
become available until 1949, the initial DOCA compounds did not
have the sort of noxious side effects associated with the later com-
pounds. Nevertheless, by 1942, twenty-eight varieties of DOCA or
                     An Unfinished Life    #   77

adrenal extracts had become available, and since no one can say
which of these Jack may have been using or exactly what was in
them, it remains conceivable that the medicine was doing him more
harm than good.
     Jack could also have been suffering from celiac sprue, an im-
mune disease common to people of Irish ancestry and characterized
by “intolerance to gluten, a complex mixture of nutritionally im-
portant proteins found in common . . . food grains such as wheat,
rye, and barley.” Although Jack would manifest several symptoms
associated with the disease — chronic diarrhea, osteoporosis, and
Addison’s — other indications of celiac sprue — stunted growth in
children, iron deficiency anemia, and family history — were absent.
The presence of persistent, severe spastic colitis (now described as
irritable bowel syndrome) and the possibility that he had Crohn’s
disease (an illness marked by intestinal inflammation and bleeding
as well as back and adrenal problems) also diminish, though do not
eliminate, the likelihood that Jack had celiac sprue, a disease of the
small intestine, not the colon. Moreover, despite many hospitaliza-
tions at some of the country’s leading medical centers after 1950,
when celiac sprue was first identified, none of his doctors suggested
such a diagnosis. However, the fact that physicians in the fifties and
sixties did not readily recognize the disease in adults leaves such a
diagnosis as a possibility.
     From September 1934 to June 1935, Jack’s senior year, the
Choate infirmary had kept close watch on Jack’s blood count. In
turn, Joe passed the results on to the Mayo doctors. At that time,
there was also concern that Jack might be suffering from leukemia, a
fatal disease resulting from uncontrolled proliferation of the white
blood cells. With the benefit of current knowledge, it seems likely
that the changes in Jack’s blood counts were a reaction to the drugs
he was taking. When he fell ill the following year, Dr. William Mur-
phy of Harvard advised that Jack had agranulocytosis, a drug-induced
decrease of granular white blood corpuscles, which made him more
susceptible to infections.
     Some of Jack’s hospitalizations were brief. Except for his short
stay in the infirmary in April 1935, he enjoyed good health dur-
ing his final year at Choate. While in London in October for his
post-Choate courses at the London School of Economics, he had
to be hospitalized, but a quick recovery allowed his enrollment at
Princeton for the fall term. Jack’s relapse probably resulted from an
                    78   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

inconsistent use of the medicines or a reduction of dosage when his
health showed improvement.
     But sometimes Jack’s visits were lengthy. When he had to with-
draw from Princeton to enter Peter Bent Brigham in Boston, he
spent most of the next two months there. Uncertain as to whether
they were dealing strictly with colitis or a combination of colitis and
ulcers and worried that his medicines were playing havoc with his
white blood cell count, his doctors performed additional tests. Jack
told Billings it was “the most harrowing experience of all my storm-
tossed career. They came in this morning with a gigantic rubber tube.
Old stuff I said, and rolled over thinking naturally that it would [be]
stuffed up my arse. Instead they grabbed me and shoved it up my
nose and down into my stomach. They then poured alchohol [sic]
down the tube. . . . They were doing this to test my acidosis. . . . They
had the thing up my nose for 2 hours.” The test measured Jack’s acid
levels to see if he was prone to stomach ulcers. The doctors were
concerned anew about his blood count. According to what Jack
wrote Billings, it was 6,000 when he entered the hospital and three
weeks later it was down to 3,500. “At 1500 you die,” Jack joked.
“They call me ‘2000 to go Kennedy.’ ”
     By the end of January, he was more worried than ever about his
health, though he continued with more biting humor to defend
himself against thoughts of dying. “Took a peak [sic] at my chart yes-
terday and could see that they were mentally measuring me for a
coffin. Eat drink & make Olive [his current girlfriend], as tomorrow
or next week we attend my funeral. I think the Rockefeller Institute
may take my case. . . . Flash — they are going to stick that tube up
my ass again as they did at Mayo.” His frustration with and anger at
medical experts who seemed better able to inflict painful and humil-
iating tests on him than explain and cure what he had was evident
when he wrote Billings: “All I can say is it’s bully of them or more
power to my smelly farts.”
     And yet behind the jokes was Jack’s fear that he was slated for an
early demise, making him almost manic about packing as much
pleasure into his life as he could in the possibly short time remain-
ing to him. His letters to Billings are full of frenetic talk about party-
ing and having sex. He was frustrated at having to stay in Boston,
even though he left the hospital on weekends to socialize. He heard
that there were “ ‘millions of beautiful young misses arriving in Palm
Beach daily,’ so am getting rather fed up with the meat up here, if
you know what I mean,” he wrote Billings. He gave him a scorecard
                     An Unfinished Life    #   79

of his actions: “Got the hottest neck out of Hansen Saturday night.
She is pretty good so am looking forward to bigger and better ones.
Also got a good one last night from J. so am doing you proud.”
“Flash —,” he added in another letter, “B.D. came to see me today in
the hospital and I laid her in the bath-tub.” As for another date, he
declared: “The next time I take her out she is going to be presented
with a great hunk of raw beef, if you know what I mean.”
     Jack’s seeming indifference to the young women he was using
for his sexual pleasures was not entirely due to his sense of urgency.
It was also a measure of the times in which Jack came to manhood.
In the thirties and forties, Jack’s “catting about” was accepted prac-
tice among well-off college boys “sowing wild oats.” What became
anathema in the last third of the twentieth century with the rise of
women’s liberation and the change in social mores was little frowned
upon by men in that bygone era. Jack certainly had genuine regard
for his sisters Rosemary and Kathleen. He treated Rosemary with
great sensitivity and had only respect for Kathleen, who, like Jack
and unlike elder brother Joe, had a rebellious streak. She was the
sibling he felt closest to. But under the influence of his father’s
example, contemporary male behavior, and the appeal of hedonism
to a teenager facing a possibly abbreviated life, glaring contradic-
tions toward women became a mainstay of his early and later years.
     In preparation for attending Harvard in the fall of 1936, Jack
had spent that spring recuperating in Arizona, where he enjoyed
improved health. But he remained worried that it would not last.
“Plunked myself down for an injection after reading of Irving Carters’
[sic] death from the same thing I have, to the Dr.’s office,” he wrote
Billings in May. “This morning I awoke with a hacking cough which
Smokey [James “Smokey Joe” Wilde, a Choate friend with him in
Arizona] assures me is T.B. in the more advanced stage. It will be the
fucking last straw if I come down with T.B.” He did not, and the rest
of his stay in the desert and then at Cape Cod in the summer gave
him a renewed sense of well-being. During his first year at Harvard
there were no serious medical crises, which allowed him to com-
pete on the freshman football and swimming teams. In the summer
of 1937, however, during his trip to Europe, he was stricken by
swelling, hives, and a reduced blood count. Billings, who was with
him, said later, “Jack broke out in the most terrible rash, and his
face blew up, and we didn’t know anybody and had an awful time
getting a doctor.” Exactly what accounted for his symptoms is un-
known, but at least one doctor suspected an allergic reaction to
                    80   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

something Jack ate, although the reduced blood count suggests con-
tinuing agranulocytosis.
     Whatever he had cleared up quickly, but it did not signal an end
to his medical problems. On the contrary, from the beginning of
1938 to the end of 1940, stomach and colon problems continued to
plague him. In February 1938, he had gone back to the Mayo Clinic
for more study. The Mayo treatment for ulcerated colitis now con-
sisted of blood transfusions, liver extract, nicotinic acid, thiamine
chloride, and Neoprontosil, a sulphur drug, but the clinic itself ac-
knowledged that its therapy was of limited value. At the end of the
month, Jack found himself in the Harvard infirmary suffering from
grippe, and at the beginning of March he had “an intestinal type
infection” that lasted two weeks and forced him to enter New En-
gland Baptist Hospital. Though he was able to return to school to
finish out the term, he spent another two weeks in New England
Baptist in June for the same complaints.
     By October he was still “in rotten shape,” but he refused to reen-
ter the hospital for what now seemed like additional pointless tests.
At the end of his fall term in February 1939, however, he gave in and
went back to the Mayo Clinic. It was the same old routine: a diet of
rice and potatoes three times a day and another inspection of his
colon and digestive system. By November, under the care of Dr.
William Murphy of Harvard, the Nobel laureate who co-discovered
the treatment of pernicious anemia and had an uncommon faith in
the healing power of liver extracts, Jack recorded that he was going
to “take my first liver injection today and I hope they work.” It did
not. A year later, he was still wrestling with abdominal pain, a spas-
tic colon, and low weight. If the adrenal extracts were limiting the
effects of his colitis — and it is not clear that they were — it certainly
was worsening his stomach problems. Nevertheless, it did not stop
him from attending to the crisis that had engulfed the world. “For a
man with a weak stomach,” his father wrote him in September
1940, “these last three days [the Battle of Britain] have proven very
conclusively that you can worry about much more important things
than whether you are going to have an ulcer or not.” In fact, what-
ever the effects of the parathyroid hormone and then adrenal
extracts on his colitis, they were almost certainly contributing to the
onset of a duodenal ulcer. Though such a condition remained undi-
agnosed until November 1943, when “an x-ray examination reported
an early duodenal ulcer,” current medical knowledge suggests that
the extracts were a prime cause of this condition. In 1944, a gas-
                      An Unfinished Life    #   81

troenterologist concluded that Jack was still suffering from a spastic
colon. Moreover, there was evidence of “spasm and irritability of the
duodenum [or small intestine] . . . which was suggestive of a duo-
denal ulcer scar.” But there would be no public acknowledgment of
any of this, nor any privately evident self-pity. Stoically refusing to
let health concerns stop him became a pattern that would allow Jack
to pursue a political career.
     The onset of serious back problems in 1940 added to Jack’s mis-
eries. In 1938 he had begun to have “an occasional pain in his right
sacro-iliac joint. It apparently grew worse but at times he was com-
pletely free from symptoms,” a medical history made in December
1944 recorded. “In the later part of 1940 while playing tennis he
experienced a sudden pain in his lower right back — it seemed to
him that ‘something had slipped.’ He was hospitalized at the Lahey
Clinic . . . for ten days. A low back support was applied and he was
comfortable. Since that time he has had periodic attacks of a similar
nature.” Although he had suffered football injuries and other mis-
haps that could help account for his emerging back pain, the onset
of his back problem could have been related to his reliance on adre-
nal extracts and/or parathyroid hormone to control his colitis; they
may have caused osteoporosis and deterioration in his lumbar spine.
Back surgery in 1944 showed clear evidence of this condition. Dur-
ing the surgery “some abnormally soft disc interspace material was
removed and . . . very little protrusion of the ruptured cartilage pres-
ent” was noted, which would make him vulnerable to progressive
back injury. It was, as it had long been with Jack, one thing after

IN THE FALL OF 1940, Jack, at age twenty-three, was among the first
slated for induction into the U.S. Army. Because he was enrolled at
Stanford for 1940–41, he was not to be called until the end of the
academic year. His colon, stomach, and back problems, however,
promised to give him an easy out. “The only humorous thing in my
life to date,” a Harvard friend at law school wrote Jack in the fall of
1940, “has been you getting drafted. I swear to God Jack I thought
I’d die of exhaustion from laughing. . . . Christ of all the guys in the
world. . . . It’s a lucky thing you’ve got your stomach.”
     But Jack wanted to serve. “This draft has caused me a bit of con-
cern,” he wrote Billings. “They will never take me into the army —
and yet if I don’t [serve], it will look quite bad.” He wanted to keep
his medical problems as quiet as possible, and failing to qualify
                   82   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

for service would subject his difficulties to public discussion. In
addition, it would add to the criticism already leveled against his
father for being adamantly opposed to American involvement in the
war. There was also the fact that he remained uncertain about a
career. Thoughts of attending law school did not excite him. A stint
in the military seemed like a challenging alternative, especially
alongside a desire not to let Joe Jr., who was becoming a navy pilot,
outshine him.
     Yet none of these reasons seem sufficient to explain his readiness
to enter the military in spite of his medical difficulties. It was an
impressive act of courage. His intestinal and back problems would
make a military regimen a constant struggle and seemed likely to
further undermine his health. When, in 1941, Jack failed the physi-
cal exams for admission to first the army’s and then the navy’s officer
candidate schools, he turned to his father to pull strings on his
behalf. Although he followed an exercise routine all summer to pre-
pare himself for another physical, no program of calisthenics was
going to bring him up to the standards required for induction into
either service. Only a denial of his medical history would allow him
to pass muster, and he was able to ensure this through Captain Alan
Kirk, his father’s former naval attaché at the American embassy in
London and current head of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
in Washington, D.C. Kirk had arranged for Joe Jr. to enter the navy as
an officer in the spring of 1941, and now at Joe Sr.’s request he did
the same for Jack that summer. “I am having Jack see a medical
friend of yours in Boston tomorrow for physical examination and
then I hope he’ll become associated with you in Naval Intelligence,”
Joe wrote Kirk in August.
     One month later, the board of medical examiners miraculously
gave Jack a clean bill of health. Reading the report of his exam,
one would think he never had a serious physical problem in his life.
The doctors listed the “usual childhood diseases” and noted that
he had been on a “restricted . . . diet of no fried food or roughage,”
but they claimed that he had “no ulcers,” and declared him “physi-
cally qualified for appointment” as an officer in the naval reserve.
It was a complete whitewash that would never have been possible
without his father’s help. The Office of Naval Intelligence was de-
lighted to accept this “exceptionally brilliant student, [who] has
unusual qualities and a definite future in whatever he undertakes.”
True, being in intelligence made it unlikely that he would be ex-
                      An Unfinished Life     #   83

posed to physical danger, but once in the service almost anything
could happen.
    Jack entered the navy in October 1941 as an ensign and immedi-
ately went to the Foreign Intelligence Branch of the ONI in Washing-
ton. He became a paper-pusher, collating and summarizing reports
from overseas stations for distribution in ONI bulletins. It was unin-
teresting work. One of six officers assigned to a plain room with
metal desks and typewriters, Jack spent his days “writing, condens-
ing, editing” news of international developments. But his humdrum
nine-to-five, six-day-a-week job changed with Japan’s December 7
attack on Pearl Harbor. Jack’s office then went to a round-the-clock
schedule. He drew the night shift, working seven nights a week from
10:00 P.M. to 7 A.M., an exhausting cycle. “Isn’t this a dull letter,” he
wrote Billings on December 12, “but I’m not sleeping much nights.”
    In contrast with his navy job, Jack enjoyed a rich social life in
Washington. His sister Kathleen, who was a reporter for the con-
servative Times-Herald, gave him instant access to a social whirl in
which groups of young men and women spent evenings together
eating, attending movies, playing party games, exchanging gossip,
and romancing one another. Through her, Jack met Inga Arvad, a
blond, blue-eyed Dane who “exuded sexuality” and was described as
“a perfect example of Nordic beauty.” New York Times columnist
Arthur Krock, who had helped Inga get a job at the Times-Herald, was
“stupefied” by her beauty. Four years older than Jack, twice married,
and worldly-wise, Inga Binga (as Jack fondly called her) was a daily
columnist. “She couldn’t write anything extended at all,” her editor
said later, “but she had a good intuitive style of writing about
people.” Her interviews under the title “Did You Happen to See?”
engaged a faithful audience as much by her personality as by her
subjects. A column she did on Jack provided an amusing portrait
of “a boy with a future” who did not like to be called “Young Ken-
nedy” lest he be seen as in his father’s shadow and short on accom-
    The column was a small window on Jack and Inga’s relationship.
She liked Jack, Inga told a fellow reporter. She thought him “refresh-
ing” because “he knows what he wants. He’s not confused about
motives.” As Inga was still married to her second husband, from
whom she was separated, they began with an understanding that
theirs was no more than a passing affair. “I wouldn’t trust him as a
long term companion, obviously,” she added. “And he’s very honest
                   84   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

about that. He doesn’t pretend that this is forever. So, he’s got a lot
to learn and I’ll be happy to teach him.”
     Jack and Inga kept up a pretense of not being lovers by double-
dating with Kathleen and her current beau, John White, a feature
writer at the Times-Herald, but despite the modest attempts to hide
his involvement with Inga, Jack’s affair was an open secret. Joe, who
kept tabs on everything the children were doing, was certainly well
informed, and he did not object to Jack’s involvement with a twice-
married woman as long as it was nothing more than a fling.
     In spite of his intentions to keep the romance from becoming
serious, Jack found himself smitten by Inga, and she reciprocated the
affection. “He had the charm that makes birds come out of their
trees,” she said later. “When he walked into a room you knew he was
there, not pushing, not domineering but exuding animal magnet-
ism.” But their growing attachment became a source of unhappiness
for both of them. A non-Catholic divorcée was hardly what Joe and
Rose would find acceptable as a mate for any of their sons. And if
that were not enough to sabotage the romance, revelations that Inga
had been given privileged access to Nazi higher-ups, including Hitler,
during a journalistic stint in Germany raised suspicions that she was
a spy. The FBI had begun tracking her movements in the middle of
1941 after she had come to the United States to earn a journalism
degree at Columbia University. Her affair with Jack fanned Bureau
suspicions. It also worried the ONI, which now saw Jack as a poten-
tial weak link in naval security. Consequently, in January 1942,
when nationally syndicated columnist Walter Winchell revealed that
Jack was having an affair with Inga, it raised the possibility that he
might be forced out of the service. Instead, the navy transferred him
to a desk job at the Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina. Jack
later told a reporter, “They shagged my ass down to South Carolina
because I was going around with a Scandinavian blonde, and they
thought she was a spy!”
     For almost two months after going to Charleston, Jack clung to
the relationship. He was unhappy about being sent into exile, dis-
liked his work, and greatly missed Inga. “Jack finds his present post
rather irksome,“ Rose said in a round-robin letter to her children in
February, “as he does not seem to have enough to do and I think will
be glad of a transfer.” His desk job in Charleston “just seemed to
him a waste of time,” Billings recalled. “He was very frustrated and
                      An Unfinished Life    #   85

     Without work to absorb him, Jack was easily preoccupied with
Inga. They exchanged love letters, spoke on the phone, and spent
long weekends together in Charleston, where she went to visit him a
few times. But their relationship grew stormy. FBI wiretaps on their
telephone calls and conversations in a hotel room during her visits
to South Carolina make clear the growing divide between them. She
was worried about being pregnant and “accused Jack of ‘taking every
pleasure of youth but not the responsibility.’ ” When she “spoke of
the possibility of getting her marriage annulled,” Jack “had very little
comment to make on the subject.” It was clear to Inga that he would
never be able to wed her. “We are so well matched,” Inga told him.
“Only because I have done some foolish things must I say to myself
‘NO.’ At last I realize that it is true. We pay for everything in life.”
     In fact, it is doubtful that Jack would have agreed to marry Inga,
but any thoughts he might have had along those lines were largely
squelched by his father, who warned Jack that he would be ruining
his career and hurting the whole family. In early March 1942, Jack,
with Inga’s assent, ended the romance. “There is one thing I don’t
want to do,” Inga told him, “and that is harm you. You belong so
wholeheartedly to the Kennedy-clan, and I don’t want you ever to
get into an argument with your father on account of me. . . . If I were
but 18 summers, I would fight like a tigress for her young, in order
to get you and keep you. Today I am wiser.” And possibly richer:
Inga’s ready acquiescence in the breakup raises the possibility that
Joe paid her off to end the romance quietly. Joe had made such
arrangements for himself. Although their intimacy ended, Jack and
Inga kept up a correspondence and a friendly relationship that
lasted for three more years.
     The recurrence of Jack’s back problems in March and April added
to his miseries. Since the treatment at the Lahey Clinic in 1940 for
back pain, Jack had suffered “periodic attacks of a similar nature.”
After he entered the navy, his spasms had become “more severe.”
Moreover, in March 1942 he told Billings that he had thrown out his
back while doing calisthenics. His stomach was also acting up again.
He went to Palm Beach to talk to Joe, who advised him to consult
Dr. Lahey in Boston again.
     By April his backache had become so severe that he sought med-
ical attention from the local navy doctor, who declared him unfit for
duty and noted that the Mayo Clinic had “advised that a fusion
operation was indicated.” The navy physician diagnosed the problem
                    86   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

as a chronic, recurrent dislocation of the right sacroiliac joint and set
it down to a “weak back.” By May, with no change in Jack’s condi-
tion, he was authorized to go to the naval hospital in Chelsea, Mass-
achusetts, for further evaluation and treatment. He was then also
able to consult his doctors at the Lahey Clinic about possible back
surgery. Since such an operation might end his naval career, Jack and
the doctors were reluctant to do it. Besides, the navy physicians at
Chelsea concluded that it was unnecessary. They saw no ruptured
disk, and now advised that “tight muscles in his legs and abnormal
posture consequent thereto” were causing Jack’s back pain. By late
June his doctors (perhaps with prodding of navy brass by Joe)
changed Jack’s diagnosis from a dislocation to a “strain, muscular,
lower back,” which was described as “probably secondary to arthritic
changes due to unusual strain from the tenseness of his leg muscles.”
The recommended course of action was no more than massage and
    There is no hint in these navy medical records of any treatment
for his colitis. It may be assumed that Jack and Joe agreed that he
should continue to hide the severity of his intestinal problems and
say nothing to the navy about any treatment he was receiving.
According to the notation in the Chelsea Naval Hospital record,
Jack’s “general health has always been good. Appendectomy in 1932.
No serious illnesses.” It is unlikely that any of Jack’s navy doctors
would have picked up on the possibility that steroids might be caus-
ing the “arthritic changes” or deterioration of bone in his lower
back. When Rose saw him in September, Jack’s stomach, colon, and
back problems went unremarked. “You can’t believe how well he
looks,” she told Joe Jr. “You can really see that his face has filled out.
Instead of it being lean, it has now become fat.” (This was a likely
consequence of steroid therapy.) By late June, Jack’s doctors declared
him fit for duty.
    At this time, Jack considered renouncing Catholicism as a kind
of retaliation against his parents for their pressure on him to drop
Inga. But Jack’s ties to Joe and Rose and the Church were stronger
than his rebellious inclinations. His iconoclasm went no further
than threats to teach a Bible class, which he thought would be seen
as “un-Catholic.” “I have a feeling that dogma might say it was,” he
wrote his mother, “but don’t good works come under our obliga-
tions to the Catholic Church. We’re not a completely ritualistic, for-
malistic, hierarchical structure in which the Word, the truth, must
                      An Unfinished Life   #   87

only come down from the very top — a structure that allows for no
individual interpretation — or are we?”
    His impulse to challenge authority also extended to the medical
experts, who seemed unable to solve his health problems. In the
midst of the war, however, Jack deferred his inclination to defy con-
ventional wisdom and instead applied for sea duty, which would
allow him to get out of the United States and away from his parents
and Inga. But, as he would quickly find, life on the front lines pro-
vided no escape from his tensions with authority. Instead of unpalat-
able parental and religious constraints, he found himself frustrated
by military directives and actions that seemed to serve little purpose.

IN JULY 1942, the navy granted Jack’s request for sea duty and in-
structed him to attend midshipman’s school at a branch of North-
western University in Chicago. There, he underwent the training that
was producing the “sixty-day wonders,” the junior naval officers
slated for combat. Jack found the demands of the program tiresome
and less than convincing as a training ground for sea duty. “This
goddamn place is worse than Choate,” he wrote Billings. “But as
F.D.R. always says, this thing is bigger than you or I — it’s global —
so I’ll string along.”
     Jack’s ambition was to command a motor torpedo boat, one of
the PTs (for “patrol-torpedo”), as they were popularly known. The
papers were full of stories about the heroic work of these small craft
and their foremost spokesman, Lieutenant Commander John Bulke-
ley, who had won a Congressional Medal of Honor for transporting
General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines through five hun-
dred miles of enemy-controlled waters to Australia. Bulkeley was a
great promoter of these craft and had convinced President Roosevelt
of their worth. In fact, in his drive to attract aggressive young offi-
cers to join his service, Bulkeley had vastly exaggerated the impor-
tance and success of the PTs. While Jack’s natural skepticism made
him suspicious of Bulkeley’s claims about all the damage his boats
were inflicting on the Japanese, the glamour of the PTs and, most
of all, the chance to have his own command and escape the tedium
of office work and navy bureaucracy made Bulkeley’s appeal com-
     The competition to become a PT commander was so keen and
Jack’s back problems so pronounced that he saw little likelihood
of being accepted by Bulkeley. But against his better judgment, Joe
                    88   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

intervened on Jack’s behalf. The positive publicity likely to be gener-
ated by having the former ambassador’s son in his command and
the very positive impression Jack made in an interview persuaded
Bulkeley to give Jack one of 50 places applied for by 1,024 volun-
teers. Once accepted, though, Jack worried about surviving the phys-
ical training required for assignment to a boat. Riding in a PT, one
expert said, was like staying upright on a bucking bronco. At full
speed it cut through the water at more than forty knots and gave its
crew a tremendous pounding. In September, while on leave, Jack
went to see Joe at the Cape. “Jack came home,” Joe wrote his eldest
son, “and between you and me is having terrific trouble with his
back. . . . I don’t see how he can last a week in that tough grind of
Torpedo Boats and what he wants to do of course, is to be operated
on and then have me fix it so he can get back in that service when he
gets better.”
     Since he wasn’t about to have an operation and since the navy
was not objecting to his service in the PTs, he decided to test the lim-
its of his endurance. The almost daily exercises at sea put additional
strain on his back. “He was in pain,” a bunkmate of Jack’s during
training in Melville, Rhode Island, recalled, “he was in a lot of pain,
he slept on that damn plywood board all the time and I don’t
remember when he wasn’t in pain.” But he loved the training in
gunnery and torpedoes, and particularly handling the boats, which
his years of sailing off Cape Cod made familiar and even enjoyable
work. “This job on these boats is really the great spot of the Navy,”
he wrote Billings, “you are your own boss, and it’s like sailing
around as in the old days.” Rose told her other children that Jack’s
presence at Melville had changed “his whole attitude about the
war. . . . He is quite ready to die for the U.S.A. in order to keep the
Japanese and the Germans from becoming the dominant people on
their respective continents. . . . He also thinks it would be good for
Joe [Jr.]’s political career if he [Jack] died for the grand old flag,
although I don’t believe he feels that is absolutely necessary.”
     Rose and Joe were relieved that he didn’t think it “absolutely
necessary” to give his life, but they found nothing funny in Jack’s
flippant remark about sacrificing himself for his brother’s ambitions.
Jack’s decision to enter combat in the PTs was “causing his mother
and me plenty of anxiety,” Joe told a priest. He was proud of his
sons for entering the most hazardous branches of the service, but it
was also causing their parents “quite a measure of grief.”
                      An Unfinished Life     #   89

    Joe’s anxiety about seeing Jack enter combat as a PT commander
may have been the determining influence behind a decision to keep
Jack in Rhode Island for six months to a year as a torpedo boat
instructor. A few of the best students in the program were routinely
made instructors, Jack’s commander said later. But a fitness report
on him, which described Jack as “conscientious, willing and depend-
able” and of “excellent personal and military character,” also consid-
ered him “relatively inexperienced in PT boat operations” and in
need of “more experience” to become “a highly capable officer.” Why
someone as inexperienced as Jack was made a training officer is dif-
ficult to understand unless some special pressure had been brought
to bear.
    Jack certainly saw behind-the-scenes manipulation at work, and
he moved to alter his orders. He went directly to Lieutenant Com-
mander John Harllee, the senior instructor at Melville. “Kennedy was
extremely unhappy at being selected as a member of the training
squadron,” Harllee recalled, “because he yearned with great zeal to
get out to the war zone. . . . As a matter of fact, he and I had some
very hard words about this assignment.” But Harllee insisted that
Jack stay.
    It was not for long, however. Jack, distrusting his father’s willing-
ness to help, went to his grandfather, Honey Fitz, who arranged a
meeting with Massachusetts senator David Walsh, the chairman of
the Naval Affairs Committee. Walsh, who was very favorably im-
pressed with Jack, wrote a letter to the Navy Department urging his
transfer to a war zone. In January 1943, Jack was detached from his
training duties and instructed to take four boats to Jacksonville,
Florida, where he would be given reassignment.
    Though he thought he was on his “way to war,” as he wrote his
brother Bobby, who was finishing prep school, he was not there yet.
During the thousand-mile voyage, he became ill with something
doctors at the naval station in Morehead City, North Carolina, diag-
nosed as “gastro-enteritis.” Since he recovered in two days and
rejoined the squadron on its way to Jacksonville, he probably had an
intestinal virus or food poisoning rather than a flare-up of his colitis.
It was a signal nonetheless that his health remained precarious and
that he was a wounded warrior heading into combat. “Re my gut
and back,” he soon wrote Billings, “it is still not hooray — but I
think it will hold out.” Upon his arrival in Jacksonville, his new
orders assigned him to patrol duty at the Panama Canal. Unwilling
                   90   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

to “be stuck in Panama for the rest of the war,” he immediately
requested transfer to the South Pacific and prevailed upon Senator
Walsh to arrange it. By the beginning of March, he was on his way to
the Solomon Islands, where Japanese and U.S. naval forces were
locked in fierce combat. After U.S. victories in the Coral Sea and at
Midway in the spring of 1942, both sides had suffered thousands of
casualties and lost dozens of ships in battles for control of New
Guinea and the Solomons.
     Jack’s eagerness to put himself at risk cries out for explanation.
Was it because he felt invincible, as the young often do, especially
the privileged? This seems doubtful. The reality of war casualties had
already registered on him. “Your friend Jock Pitney,” he wrote Lem
on January 30, 1943, “I saw the other day is reported missing and a
class-mate of mine, Dunc Curtis . . . was killed on Christmas day.”
Was Jack then hoping for a war record he could use later in politics?
Almost certainly not. In 1943, Joe Jr. was the heir apparent to a
political career, not his younger brother. Instead, his compelling
impulse was similar to that of millions of other Americans who
believed in the war as an essential crusade against evil, an apocalyp-
tic struggle to preserve American values against totalitarianism. One
wartime slogan said it best: “We can win; we must win; we will win.”
Small wonder, then, that Jack applauded Lem’s success in getting
himself close to combat in North Africa by becoming an ambulance
driver in the American Field Service. “You have seen more war than
any of us as yet,” he told Billings, who had failed his army physical,
“and I certainly think it was an excellent idea to go.” Jack also
admired their friend Rip Horton for thinking about transferring
from the Quartermaster Corps to the “Paratroopers — as he figured
if my stomach could stand that [the PTs] he could stand the other.
He’ll be alright if his glasses don’t fall off.”
     The seventeen months Jack would spend in the Pacific dramati-
cally changed his outlook on war and the military. “I’m extremely
glad I came,” Jack wrote Inga, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but I
will be extremely glad to get back. . . . A number of my illusions
have been shattered.”
     Among them were assumptions about surviving the war. The
combat he witnessed in March 1943, on his first day in the
Solomons, quickly sobered him. As his transport ship approached
Guadalcanal, a Japanese air raid killed the captain of his ship and
brought the crew face to face with a downed Japanese pilot, who
rather than be rescued by his enemy began firing a revolver at the
                      An Unfinished Life   #   91

bridge of the U.S. ship. “That slowed me a bit,” Jack wrote Billings,
“the thought of him sitting in the water — battling an entire ship.”
An “old soldier” standing next to Jack blew the top of the pilot’s
head off after the rest of the ship’s crew, which was “too surprised to
shoot straight,” filled the water with machine-gun fire. “It brought
home very strongly how long it’s going to take to finish the war.”
     It also made the perils of combat clearer to Jack. His Harvard
friend Torbert Macdonald described a letter Jack wrote the next day,
telling Macdonald “to watch out and really get trained, because I
didn’t know as much about boats as he [Jack] did, and he said I
should know what the hell I was doing because it’s different out in
the war zone.” A visit to the grave of George Mead, a Cape Cod
friend who had been killed in the Guadalcanal fighting, underscored
the grim realities of the war for Jack. It was “among the gloomier
events,” he told Inga. “He is buried near the beach where they first
landed.” It was “a very simple grave” marked by “an aluminum
plate, cut out of mess gear . . . and on it crudely carved ‘Lt. George
Mead USMC. Died Aug. 20. A great leader of men — God Bless
Him.’ The whole thing was about the saddest experience I’ve ever
had and enough to make you cry.” When Rose told Jack that “all the
nuns and priests along the Atlantic Coast” were “putting in a lot of
praying time” on his behalf, he declared it comforting. But he hoped
“it won’t be taken as a sign of lack of confidence in you all or the
Church if I continue to duck.”
     What impressed Jack now was not the eagerness of the men in
the war zone for heroic combat — that was romantic stuff dispelled
by battlefield losses — but their focus on getting home alive. He told
Inga that the “picture that I had in the back of my greatly illusioned
mind about spending the war sitting on some cool Pacific Beach
with a warm Pacific maiden stroking me gently” had disappeared.
What “the boys at the front” talked about was “first and foremost . . .
exactly when they were going to get home.” He wrote his parents:
“When I was speaking about the people who would just as soon be
home, I didn’t mean to use ‘They’ — I meant ‘We.’ ” He urged them
to tell brother Joe not to rush to join him in the Pacific, as “he will
want to be back the day after [he] arrives, if he runs true to the form
of everyone else.” When Billings told Jack that he was considering a
transfer to Southeast Asia to fight with the British, Jack expressed
delight that he was “still in one piece,” noting that “you have cer-
tainly had your share of thrills,” and advised him to “return safely
to the U.S. and join the Quartermaster Corps + sit on your fat ass
                    92   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

for awhile. . . . I myself hope perhaps to get home by Christmas, as
they have been good about relieving us — as the work is fairly tough
out here.”
    Jack’s letters make clear that he was particularly cynical about
commentators back home pontificating on the war from the safety
and comfort of their offices and pleasure palaces. “It’s not bad here
at all,” Jack wrote Billings, “but everyone wants to get the hell back
home — the only people who want to be out here are the people
back in the states — and particularly those in the Stork Club.” He
made a similar point to Inga: “It’s one of the interesting things about
this war that everyone in the States, with the exception of that gal-
lant armed guard on the good ship U.S.S. Stork Club — Lt. Com-
mander Walter Winchell — wants to be out here killing Japs, while
everyone out here wants to be back at the Stork Club. It seems to me
that someone with enterprise could work out some sort of exchange,
but as I hear you saying, I asked for it honey and I’m getting it.” “I
always like to check from where he [the columnist] is talking,” he
wrote his parents, “it’s seldom out here.” All the talk about “billions
of dollars and millions of soldiers” made “thousands of dead”
sound “like drops in the bucket. But if those thousands want to live
as much as the ten I saw [on my boat] — they should measure their
words with great, great care.”
    Jack admired the courage and commitment to duty he saw
among the officers and men serving on the PTs, but he also sympa-
thized with their fear of dying and saw no virtue in false heroics.
When one of the sailors under his command, a father of three chil-
dren, became unnerved by an attack on their PT, Jack found his reac-
tion understandable and tried to arrange shore duty for him. After
the man was killed in another attack on Jack’s boat, he wrote his
parents: “He never said anything about being put ashore — he
didn’t want to — but the next time we came down the line — I was
going to let him work on the base force. When a fellow gets the feel-
ing that he’s in for it — the only thing to do is to let him get off the
boat — because strangely enough they always seem to be the ones
that do get it.”
    Jack reserved his harshest criticism for the high military officers
he saw “leading” the men in his war zone. General Douglas
MacArthur, commander of all U.S. Army forces in the Pacific, was no
hero to him. Jack thought MacArthur’s island-to-island strategy was
a poor idea. “If they do that,” he wrote his parents, “the motto out
here ‘The Golden Gate by 48’ won’t even come true.” Jack reported
                      An Unfinished Life    #   93

that MacArthur enjoyed little or no support among the men he
spoke to. The general “is in fact, very, very unpopular. His nick-name
is ‘Dug-out-Doug,’ ” reflecting his refusal to send in army troops to
relieve the marines fighting for Guadalcanal and to emerge from his
“dug-out in Australia.”
     The commanders whom Jack saw up close impressed him as no
better. “Have been ferrying quite a lot of generals around,” he wrote
Inga, “as the word has gotten around evidently since MacArthur’s
escape that the place to be seen for swift and sure advancement if
you’re a general is in a PT boat.” His description to Inga of a visit to
their base by an admiral is priceless. “Just had an inspection by an
Admiral. He must have weighed over three hundred, and came
bursting through our hut like a bull coming out of chute three. . . .
‘And what do we have here?’ ” he asked about a machine shop.
When told what it was, he wanted to know what “you keep in it,
harrumph ah . . . MACHINERY?” Told yes, he wrote it “down on the
special pad he kept for such special bits of information which can
only be found ‘if you get right up to the front and see for yourself.’ ”
After additional inane remarks about building a dock in a distant
bay, he “toddled off to stoke his furnace at the luncheon table. . . .
That, Binga, is total war at its totalest.”
     Worse than the posturing of these officers was the damage Jack
saw some of them inflicting on the war effort. As far as he was con-
cerned, many of them were little more than inept bureaucrats. “A
great hold-up seems to be the lackadaisical way they handle the
unloading of ships,” he wrote his parents a month after arriving in
the Solomons. “They sit in ports out here weeks at a time while they
try to get enough Higgins boats to unload them. . . . They’re losing
ships, in effect, by what seems from the outside to be just inertia up
high. . . . They have brought back a lot of old Captains and Com-
manders from retirement and stuck them in as heads of these ports
and they give the impression of their brains being in their tails, as
Honey Fitz would say. The ship I arrived on — no one in the port
had the slightest idea it was coming. It had hundreds of men and it
sat in the harbor for two weeks while signals were being exchanged.”
Jack was pleased to note, however, that everyone had confidence in
the top man, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. But he was especially
doubtful about the academy officers he met. Now Rear Admiral John
Harllee recalled Kennedy’s feeling in 1947 that “many Annapolis
and West Point graduates were not as good material as the country
could have selected. . . . He felt, for example, that some of the senior
                    94   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

officers with whom he had had contact in the Navy left something
to be desired in their leadership qualities.” Somewhat ironically,
given his own convoluted path into military service, Jack saw politi-
cal influence on admitting candidates to the academies as the root of
the problem. The resulting unqualified officers were a significant
part of what he called “this heaving puffing war machine of ours.”
He lamented the “super-human ability of the Navy to screw up
everything they touch.”
     Another difficulty Jack and others saw was the overestimation of
the PTs’ ability to make a substantial contribution to the fighting.
Despite wartime claims that just one PT squadron alone had sunk a
Japanese cruiser, six destroyers, and a number of other ships in the
fighting around Guadalcanal, a later official history disclosed that in
four months of combat in the Solomons, all the PT squadrons com-
bined had sunk only one Japanese destroyer and one submarine.
One PT commander later said, “Let me be honest. Motor torpedo
boats were no good. You couldn’t get close to anything without
being spotted. . . . Whether we sunk anything is questionable. . . .
The PT brass were the greatest con artists of all times. They got every-
thing they wanted — the cream of everything, especially personnel.
But the only thing PTs were really effective at was raising War
Bonds.” Jack himself wrote to his sister Kathleen: “The glamor of PTs
just isn’t except to the outsider. It’s just a matter of night after night
patrols at low speed in rough water — two hours on — then sacking
out and going on again for another two hours.” The boats were
poorly armed with inadequate guns and unreliable World War I tor-
pedoes, had defective engines and highly imperfect VHF (very high
frequency) radios that kept conking out, lacked armor plating, and
turned into floating infernos when hit.
     Jack’s doubts about local commanders and the PTs as an effec-
tive fighting force extended to the crews manning the boats. In May
he told his parents, “When the showdown comes, I’d like to be con-
fident they [his crew] knew the difference between firing a gun and
winding their watch.” By September, he declared that he “had
become somewhat cynical about the American as a fighting man. I
had seen too much bellyaching and laying off.”
     During his initial service in the Solomons in April and May
1943, Jack had seen limited action. The United States had won con-
trol of Guadalcanal by then, and Kennedy arrived during a lull in the
fighting. Nevertheless, the island-hopping campaign against the
Japanese was not close to being over. In anticipation of another U.S.
                      An Unfinished Life   #   95

offensive and to reinforce garrisons southeast of their principal
base at Rabaul on New Britain Island, the capital of the Australian-
mandated territory of New Guinea, the Japanese launched continual
air and naval raids. In June, when U.S. forces began a campaign to
capture the New Georgia Islands and ultimately oust the Japanese
from New Guinea, the PTs took on what U.S. military chiefs in the
region called the “Tokyo Express”: Japanese destroyers escorting rein-
forcements for New Georgia through “the Slot,” the waters in New
Georgia Sound southeast of Bougainville Strait and between Choiseul
Island and the islands of Vella Lavella, Kolombangara, and New
Georgia itself.
     Jack’s boat was sent to the Russell Islands southeast of New
Georgia in June and then in July to Lumbari Island in the heart
of the combat zone west of New Georgia. On August 1, his boat —
PT 109 — was one of fifteen PTs sent to Blackett Strait southwest of
Kolombangara to intercept a Japanese convoy that had escaped
detection by six U.S. destroyers posted north of the island. The fif-
teen were the largest concentration of PTs to that point in the
Solomons campaign. It also proved to be, in the words of the navy’s
official history, “the most confused and least effective action the PT’s
had been in.” In a 1976 authoritative account, Joan and Clay Blair Jr.
describe the results of the battle as “a personal and professional dis-
aster” for PT commander Thomas G. Warfield. He blamed the defeat
on the boats’ captains: “There wasn’t much discipline in those
boats,” he said after the war. “There really wasn’t any way to control
them very well. . . . Some of them stayed in position. Some of them
got bugged and didn’t fire when they should have. One turned
around and ran all the way out of the strait.”
     The attack by the boats against the superior Japanese force
failed. Broken communications between the PTs produced uncoor-
dinated, futile action; only half the boats fired torpedoes — thirty-
two out of the sixty available — and did so without causing any
damage. Worse yet, Jack’s boat was sliced in half by one of the Japan-
ese destroyers, killing two of the crew members and casting the other
eleven, including Jack, adrift.
     Since the speedy PTs were fast enough to avoid being run over by
a large destroyer and since Jack’s boat was the only PT ever rammed
in the entire war, questions were raised about his performance in
battle. “He [Kennedy] wasn’t a particularly good boat commander,”
Warfield said later. Other PT captains were critical of him for sit-
ting in the middle of Blackett Strait with only one engine running,
                    96   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

which reduced the amount of churning water that could be seen
(and likelihood of being spotted and bombed by Japanese planes)
but decreased the boat’s chances of making a quick escape from an
onrushing destroyer.
     In fact, the failure lay not with Jack but with the tactics followed
by all PT boat captains and circumstances beyond Kennedy’s con-
trol. Since only four of the fifteen boats had radar and since it was a
pitch-black night, it was impossible for the other eleven PTs to either
follow the leaders with radar or spot the Japanese destroyers. After
the radar-equipped boats fired their torpedoes, they returned to base
and left the other PTs largely blind. “Abandoned by their leaders and
enjoined to radio silence, the remaining PT boats had no real
chance, in pitch dark, of ambushing the Japanese destroyers,” one of
the boat commanders said later.
     The ramming of Jack’s PT was more a freak accident than a “ ‘stu-
pid mistake’ ” on Jack’s part, as Warfield’s successor described it.
With no radar and only one of his three engines in gear, Jack could
not turn the PT 109 away from the onrushing destroyer in the ten to
fifteen seconds between the time it was spotted and the collision.
     With six crew members, including Jack, clinging to the hull of
the boat, which had remained afloat, Kennedy and two other crew-
men swam out to lead the other five survivors back to the floating
wreck. One of the men in the water, the boat’s engineer, Pat “Pappy”
McMahon, was seriously burned and Jack had to tow him against a
powerful current. He then dove into the water again to bring two
other men to the comparative safety of the listing hull. Two of the
crew were missing, apparently killed instantly in the collision. They
were never found, and Jack remembered their loss as a “terrible
thing.” One, who had feared that his number was up, had been part
of Jack’s original crew; the other had just come aboard and was only
nineteen years old.
     At 2:00 P.M., after nine hours of clinging to the hull, which was
now close to sinking, Kennedy organized the ten other survivors into
two support groups for a swim to a seventy-yard-wide deserted speck
of land, variously known as Bird or Plum Pudding Island. Jack,
swimming on his stomach, towed his wounded crewman by clench-
ing the ties of his life jacket in his mouth while “Pappy” McMahon
floated on his back. The swim took five grueling hours. Because the
island was south of Ferguson Passage, a southern route into Blackett
Strait normally traveled by the PTs, Kennedy decided to swim out
into the passage to flag a boat. Although he had not slept in thirty-
                     An Unfinished Life   #   97

six hours, was exhausted, and would face treacherous currents, he
insisted on going at once. An hour’s swim brought him into position
to signal a passing PT with a lantern, but no boats showed up that
night; believing that no one on the PT 109 had survived the colli-
sion, the commanders had shifted their patrol to the northeast in
the Vella Gulf. Bouts of unconsciousness marked Jack’s return swim
to his crew, who had given him up for lost until he returned at
noon. Too exhausted to try another swim to the passage on the night
of August 3, he sent another crew member, who returned on the
fourth with no better result.
    That day, the party swam to the larger nearby Olasana Island,
where they found no drinking water to relieve their increasing thirst
except for some rain they caught in their mouths during a storm. On
the fifth, Kennedy and Barney Ross, another officer who had come
on the boat just for the August 1 patrol, swam to Cross Island, which
was closer to Ferguson Passage. There they found a one-man canoe,
a fifty-five-gallon drum of fresh water, and some crackers and candy.
Jack carried the water and food in the canoe back to Olasana, where
the men, who had been surviving on coconuts, had been discovered
and were being attended to by two native islanders. The next day,
after Jack returned to Cross Island, where Ross had remained, he
scratched a message on a coconut with a jackknife, which the natives
agreed to take to Rendova, the PT’s main base. NATIVE KNOWS POSIT
four islanders appeared at Cross with a letter from a New Zealand
infantry lieutenant operating in conjunction with U.S. Army troops
on New Georgia: “I strongly advise that you come with these natives
to me. Meanwhile, I shall be in radio communication with your
authorities at Rendova and we can finalize plans to collect balance
of your party.” On the following day, Saturday, the seventh day of
the survivors’ ordeal, the natives brought Jack to the New Zealan-
der’s camp. Within twenty-four hours, all were aboard a PT, being
transported back to Rendova for medical attention.
    “In human affairs,” President Franklin Roosevelt had told the
uncooperative Free French leader Charles de Gaulle at the Casablanca
Conference the previous January, “the public must be offered a
drama.” Particularly in time of war, he might have added.
    Jack Kennedy was now to serve this purpose. Correspondents for
the Associated Press and the United Press covering the Solomons
campaign immediately saw front-page news in PT 109’s ordeal and
rescue. Journalists were already on one of the two PTs that went
                   98   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

behind enemy lines to pick up the survivors. In their interviews with
the crew and base commanders, they heard only praise for Jack’s
courage and determination to ensure the survival and deliverance
of his men. Consequently, when Navy Department censors cleared
the story for publication, Jack became headline news: KENNEDY’S
York Times disclosed. KENNEDY’S SON SAVES 10 IN PACIFIC; KEN-
NEDY’S SON IS HERO IN THE PACIFIC, the Boston Globe announced
with local pride.
     Jack became the center of the journalists’ accounts, though not
simply because he was a hero — there were many other stories of
individual heroism that did not resonate as strongly as Jack’s. Nor
was his family’s prominence entirely responsible for the newspaper
headlines. Instead, Jack’s heroism spoke to larger national mores: he
was a unifying example of American egalitarianism. His presence in
the war zone and behavior told the country that it was not only
ordinary G.I.s from local byways risking their lives for national sur-
vival and values but also the privileged son of a wealthy, influential
father who had voluntarily placed himself in harm’s way and did the
country proud. Joe Kennedy, ever attentive to advancing the reputa-
tion of his family, began making the same point. “It certainly should
occur to a great many people,” he declared, “that although a boy is
brought up in our present economic system with all the advantages
that opportunity and wealth can give, the initiative that America
instills in its people is always there. And to take that away from us
means there is really nothing left to live for.”
     Jack himself viewed his emergence as an American hero with
wry humor and becoming modesty. He never saw his behavior as
extraordinary. “None of that hero stuff about me,” he wrote Inga.
“The real heroes are not the men who return, but those who stay out
there, like plenty of them do, two of my men included.” Asked later
by a young skeptic how he became a hero, he said, “It was easy. They
cut my PT boat in half.” He understood that his heroism was, in a
way, less about him than about the needs of others — individuals
and the country as a whole. Later, during a political campaign, he
told one of the officers who had rescued him, “Lieb, if I get all the
votes from the people who claim to have been on your boat the
night of the pickup, I’ll win easily!” When The New Yorker and Read-
er’s Digest ran articles about him and PT 109, he enjoyed the renown
but had no illusions about military heroes and worried about their
                      An Unfinished Life    #   99

influence on national affairs. “God save this country of ours from
those patriots whose war cry is ‘what this country needs is to be run
with military efficiency,’ ” he wrote a friend. When Hollywood later
made a film about PT 109, which served his political image and
ambitions, he was happy to go along. But at a special White House
showing, he made light of the occasion. “I’d like you to meet the
lookout on PT 109,” he jokingly introduced Barney Ross. In his
chuckle was an acknowledgment of an absurdity that had lasted.
     In fact, for all the accuracy of the popular accounts praising
Jack’s undaunted valor, the full story of his courage was not being
told. Everything he did in the normal course of commanding his
boat and then his extraordinary physical exertion during the week
after the sinking was never discussed in the context of his medical
problems, particularly his back. Lennie Thom, Jack’s executive officer
on PT 109, was writing letters home at the time discussing Kennedy’s
back problem and his refusal to “report to sick bay. . . . Jack feigned
being well, but . . . he knew he was always working under duress.”
Jack acknowledged to his parents that life on the boats was not
“exactly what the Dr. (Jordan) ordered. If she could have put in the
last week with me, she would have had that bed turned down for me
at the [New England] Baptist [Hospital].” Yet Jack did not let on to
his crew or commanding officer that he was ill or in pain. And
except for his chronic back ailment, which he simply could not hide
and which he seemed to take care of by wearing a “corset-type thing”
and sleeping with a plywood board under his mattress, his men on
PT 109 saw no health problems. Joe Kennedy knew better, writing
son Joe after news of Jack’s rescue that he was trying to arrange Jack’s
return to the States, because “I imagine he’s pretty well shot to pieces
by now.” Joe Sr. told a friend, “I’m sure if he were John Doake’s son
or Harry Hopkins’ son he’d be home long before this.”
     But even if the navy were willing to send him home, Jack was
not ready to go. He wanted some measure of revenge for the losses
he and his crew had suffered. He felt humiliated by the sinking of
his boat. According to Inga: “It was a question of whether they were
going to give him a medal or throw him out.” Jack’s commanding
officer remembered that “he wanted to pay the Japanese back. I
think he wanted to recover his own self-esteem — he wanted to get
over this feeling of guilt which you would have if you were sitting
there and had a destroyer cut you in two.” He took ten days to recu-
perate from the “symptoms of fatigue and many deep abrasions and
                   100   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

lacerations of the entire body, especially the feet,” noted by the med-
ical officer attending him. On August 16, he returned to duty “very
much improved.”
     The PTs were now in bad standing, but there were so many of
them that the navy needed to put them to some good purpose. Con-
sequently, the brass was receptive to converting some PTs into more
heavily armed gunships. Jack’s boat — which he helped design —
was the first of these to enter combat, in early October. And for the
next six weeks he got in a lot of fighting and, to his satisfaction,
inflicted some damage on the enemy.
     By the late fall, however, he was weary of the war and ready to go
home. He wrote Inga that the areas over which they were battling
were “just God damned hot stinking corners of small islands in a
group of islands in a part of the ocean we all hope never to see
again.” And the war itself now seemed “so stupid, that while it has a
sickening fascination for some of us, myself included, I want to leave
it far behind me when I go.”

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than the war-weariness stimulating Jack’s
desire to go home were his continuing health problems. He now
had almost constant back pain and stomachaches, which added to
his normal fatigue from riding the boat at nights and struggling to
sleep in the heat of the day. But unless he brought his medical diffi-
culties to the attention of the navy doctors, he doubted that they
would send him back to the States. “I just took the physical exami-
nation for promotion to full Looie,” he wrote his brother Bobby. “I
coughed hollowly, rolled my eyes, croaked a couple of times, but all
to no avail. Out here, if you can breathe, you’re one A and ‘good for
active duty anywhere’ and by anywhere, they don’t mean the El
Morocco or the Bath and Tennis Club, they mean right where you
are.” He wrote Billings: “I looked as bad as I could look, which is ne
plus ultra, wheezed badly, peed on his [the doctor’s] hand when he
checked me for a rupture to show I had no control, all to no avail. I
passed with flying colors, ready ‘for active duty ashore or at sea’ any-
where, and by anywhere they mean no place else but here. . . . Every-
one is in such lousy shape here that the only way they can tell if he
is fit to fight is to see if he can breathe. That’s about the only
grounds on which I can pass these days.”
    By November 23, however, his stomach pain had become so
severe that he had to go to the navy hospital at Tulagi in the Solo-
mons for an examination. X rays showed “a definite ulcer crater,”
                      An Unfinished Life    #   101

which indicated “an early duodenal ulcer.” It was enough to compel
Jack’s return to the States. On December 14, his commander de-
tached him from the PT squadron and ordered his return to the
Melville, Rhode Island, PT training center by the first available air
transport. Once back in the States, where he didn’t arrive until Janu-
ary, he was entitled to thirty days’ leave before reporting for duty.
     He went first to Los Angeles to visit Inga, who saw him as “defi-
nitely not in good shape,” and then to the Mayo Clinic for an exam-
ination. Joe Sr. joined Jack in Rochester and thought he was “in
reasonably good shape, but the doctors at Mayo’s don’t entirely
agree with me on this diagnosis.” The doctors suggested that he con-
sider having surgery to relieve the constant pain in his lower back,
but, Joe wrote Rose, “Jack is insistent that he wants to get going
again, so he left here Saturday to go and see his brothers and sisters
and then report for duty.” Before heading to Rhode Island, however,
he visited Palm Beach and New York for some R and R. “He is just
the same,” Rose wrote his siblings, “wears his oldest clothes, still late
for meals, still no money. He has even overflowed the bathtub, as
was his boyhood custom.” The rest did not ease his ills, which now
compelled him to take additional leave from duty for further med-
ical evaluation in Boston’s New England Baptist Hospital. There, in
February, the doctors also recommended back surgery.
     But Jack was in no hurry to have an operation. He delayed, per-
haps in the hope that the problem would let up or that it could wait
until the war ended and he got out of the navy. His reluctance rested
partly on the concern that it might raise questions about his failure
to disclose his pre-service back, stomach, and colon problems and
lead to a medical discharge under a cloud. In the meantime, the
navy had reassigned him to a PT base in Miami, Florida, where he
did nothing of consequence. “Once you get your feet upon the desk
in the morning,” he told John Hersey, who was writing The New
Yorker article on PT 109, “the heavy work of the day is done.” With
no work of importance and his pain too great to delay further treat-
ment, however, he agreed in May to have surgery. Occasional high
fevers, coupled with a yellow-brown complexion — which was later
diagnosed as malaria — underscored his need for medical attention.
He joked that he would get through the war “with nothing more
than a shattered constitution.” The navy now gave him permission
for back surgery at New England Baptist by a Lahey Clinic doctor.
     He entered the Chelsea Naval Hospital on June 11 and was diag-
nosed as having a ruptured disk. On June 22, he was transferred to
                   102   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

New England Baptist, where the following day a Lahey surgeon oper-
ated on him. The surgery disclosed not a herniated or ruptured disk
but “abnormally soft” cartilage, which was removed. A subsequent
“microscopic report showed fibrocartilage with degeneration.”
    Jack did well for the first two weeks after the operation, but
when he began walking, he suffered severe muscle spasms in his
lower back that “necessitated fairly large doses of narcotics to keep
him comfortable.” The surgeon noted that only nine other patients
out of more than five hundred had exhibited similar symptoms. Jack
continued to have considerable pain when standing, and the physi-
cian predicted that it would be at least six months before he could
return to active duty.
    It was an overly optimistic prognosis. When Jack transferred
back to the Chelsea Naval Hospital in August, a neurosurgeon de-
scribed the case as “an interesting complication of disc surgery where
the surgeon at the Lahey Clinic may well have failed to get to the
bottom of the situation. . . . The pathology seen at operation was
not evidently a clear cut disc.” Jack was “obviously incapacitated,”
and the navy physician had no answer to his problem, as he be-
lieved “there is some other cause for his neuritis.”
    Jack’s back difficulties were only one of several medical prob-
lems afflicting him. He was also described as having “a definite
doudenal ulcer which recently was healed by x-ray, but he now has
symptoms of an irritable colon.” Sara Jordan, the leading gastroen-
terologist at Lahey, told the navy doctors that Jack had “diffuse duo-
denitis and severe spastic colitis.” Though prior to entering the navy
he had suffered “abdominal pain, sometimes of a dull nature and
sometimes acute,” he had been in “good condition for some time,
having had no abdominal symptoms, but using considerable discre-
tion in his diet and some times resorting to antispasmodic medica-
tion.” He told Dr. Jordan that his current distress had begun after his
ordeal in the Solomons. Jordan’s report said nothing about the
extensive Mayo Clinic workup and treatment ten years earlier. By the
middle of July, Jack had almost constant abdominal pain that only
codeine could relieve.
    During September and October, his back symptoms eased up,
but the intestinal troubles continued. “The main difficulty,” the navy
doctors noted on November 6, “is now failure to gain weight and
strength with continuation of spasmodic pain” in the left side of his
abdomen. Since Jack’s recovery was going to take “an indefinite
amount of time,” his surgeon declared him “unfit for service.” The
                      An Unfinished Life    #   103

doctors now changed his diagnosis from “hernia, intervertebral disc”
to “colitis, chronic.” By the end of November, the medical team at
Chelsea Naval Hospital declared him permanently unfit for service
and recommended that he appear before a retirement board.
     Jack was now at the end of his patience with doctors and their
treatments. In August, after eight weeks of hospitalization, he wrote
a friend: “In regard to the fascinating subject of my operation, I . . .
will confine myself to saying that I think the doc should have read
just one more book before picking up the saw.” In November, he
wrote Lem: “Am still in that god damned hospital — have had two
ops. and Handsome Hensen, who is now in charge of my case,
wants to get cutting again. He is the stupidest son of a bitch that ever
drew breath. . . . He’s a mad man with a knife.”
     The chief of the navy’s medical bureau, a Dr. B. H. Adams, now
also temporarily frustrated Jack by raising questions about the ori-
gins of his disability. Jack’s restricted diet before he entered the navy
seemed to “clearly indicate that the subject officer suffered some
type of gastro-intestinal disease prior to his appointment in the U.S.
Naval Reserve.” Adams disputed the conclusion that “ ‘the back-
ground of his present physical status is an exhausting combat experi-
ence . . . .’ This opinion would appear to be not supported by the
past history as set forth above.” Prior to Jack’s appearance before a
retiring board, Adams wanted “the history relating to the gastro-
intestinal disease . . . clarified.” But other medical officers overruled
Adams, declaring that Kennedy’s “present abdominal symptoms
started” after “he spent over 50 hours in the water and went without
food or drinking water for one week.” They took at face value Jack’s
statement that “his present abdominal discomfort is different than
that noted previous to enlistment.” After interviewing Jack on
December 27, the retiring board concluded that his incapacity for
naval service was permanent and was “the result of an incident of
the service . . . suffered in [the] line of duty.” He was placed on the
navy’s retirement list as of March 1, 1945.
     Perhaps Jack experienced a different type of abdominal pain
from what had plagued him before entering the navy, but his diffi-
culties were all of one piece. The colitis had been afflicting him since
at least 1934, when he was only seventeen, and his back problems
had begun in 1938 and had been a constant source of difficulty
since 1941. The steroid treatment for the colitis, which apparently
began in 1937, may have been the principal contributor to his back
trouble and ulcer without curing his “spastic colitis.” Because they
                   104   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

could not identify the origins of his back miseries, the doctors now
called it an “unstable back.”
     The available evidence suggests that adrenal extracts in the form
of implanted pellets used to control his colitis may have been the
basis of his stomach ulceration and back difficulties. Jack apparently
used these drugs episodically, relying on them when his colon dis-
ease flared up and stopping when he felt better. No doubt cir-
cumstances — the difficulty of consistently having so new a drug
available during his nine months in the Pacific, for example — also
made his use of them erratic. One expert on steroids says that regu-
lating dosages was initially a serious problem, especially as DOCA
was given intramuscularly or inserted under the skin with the expec-
tation that it would be effective for a period of eight to ten months.
Considerable uncertainty as to how much or how little was appro-
priate for a patient suggests that even under the best of circumstances
Jack’s use of them was uneven.
     What makes assertions that Jack’s stop-and-start use of steroids
was a source of his stomach and lumbar diseases more convincing is
the events in his medical history between 1945 and 1947. At the be-
ginning of 1945, Jack went to Castle Hot Springs, Arizona, to recover
his health. It was an elusive quest. Although Jack refused to com-
plain to his father about his continuing maladies, Dr. Lahey saw him
in Phoenix and reported to Joe that he was not “getting along well
at all.” His back remained a source of almost constant pain and he
had trouble digesting his food. A companion in Arizona remem-
bered that “he looked jaundiced — yellow as saffron and as thin as a
rake.” After a month in the desert, he told Billings that his back was
“so bad that I am going to Mayo’s about the first of April unless it
gets a little better.”
     It did not, and so in mid-April he went back to Rochester,
Minnesota. Since his doctors had nothing new to recommend, he
decided against additional medical workups. Instead, in May, as the
war ended in Europe, he went to work as a correspondent for the
Hearst newspapers covering the United Nations conference in San
Francisco and then the British elections and the Potsdam Confer-
ence in Germany. When friends saw him in San Francisco, he looked
sickly and spent a lot of time in bed resting his back. In July he was
down with a fever in London, and then in August, after returning
to London from Germany, he became terribly ill with a high fever,
nausea, vomiting, “vague abdominal discomfort,” and “loose stool.”
Doctors at the U.S. Navy Dispensary in London noted “a similar
                      An Unfinished Life    #   105

episode in 1942” and a previous history of malaria in 1944, but
recorded his current illness as “gastro-enteritis, acute.” In June 1946,
after marching in a parade in Boston on a blistering hot day, he col-
lapsed. One witness to the onset remembered that he “turned very
yellow and blue” and looked like someone having a heart attack.
     Dr. Elmer C. Bartels, an endocrinologist at the Lahey Clinic who
subsequently treated him for his Addison’s, recalled that Jack was
negligent about taking his medicine with him on trips. During his
1947 visit with Kathleen in Ireland, Jack became ill and cabled
home asking that prescriptions be filled and sent with either his
younger sister Patricia or a friend sailing to England. Before his sister
or friend arrived with the medication, however, he became very ill
in London. Seen at Claridge’s Hotel by Dr. Sir Daniel Davis, a promi-
nent physician, Jack was immediately hospitalized at the London
Clinic, where he was diagnosed with Addison’s. His nausea, vomit-
ing, fever, fatigue, inability to gain weight, and brownish yellow
color were all classic symptoms of the disease. (Because malaria had
similar symptoms and because Jack’s long history of stomach and
colon problems suggested that his difficulties were related to an ulcer
or colitis, his previous doctors had not diagnosed the Addison’s.)
Jack’s failure to take his medicine probably triggered this Addisonian
     Kennedy’s Addison’s disease, like the ulcer and osteoporosis and
degeneration of his lumbar spine, was likely the result of the supple-
mental hormones he had apparently been taking on and off since the
1930s. It is now also understood that sustained treatment with
steroids can cause the adrenal glands to shrivel and die. Doctors who
had treated Jack’s Addison’s or read closely about his condition have
concluded that he had a secondary form of the disease, or a “slow
atrophy of the adrenal glands,” rather than a rapid primary destruc-
tion. Because his sister Eunice also suffered from Addison’s, it is nev-
ertheless possible that the disease had an inherited component.
     Yet whatever the etiology of the problem, it was yet another
potentially life-threatening disorder for Jack. An insufficient supply
of cortisone reduces the body’s capacity to resist infection and makes
people ill with Addison’s disease susceptible to medical crises from
any sort of surgery, even the extraction of a tooth. By the time Jack
was diagnosed with Addison’s, however, medical science had de-
veloped hormone replacements that, if given in proper doses, could
ensure a normal life span. But it was hard, even given the Kennedy
family confidence, not to fear that Jack’s days were numbered.
                   106    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

                                 * * *
JACK’S MEDICAL ORDEAL paralleled family suffering that, added to
his experience in the war, made him intensely conscious of the pre-
cariousness of life. In 1944, his brother Joe had been flying anti-
submarine patrols in the English Channel. Although he had been
entitled to return home after thirty missions, he insisted on remain-
ing through at least the D-Day invasion to help guard the amphibi-
ous Allied forces against possible German U-boat attacks. But even
after contributing to the success of the June 6 landing by providing
air cover against submarines, Joe Jr. was not content to go home.
Part of his eagerness to stay in the war zone was a competitive urge
to outdo Jack. On August 10, Joe wrote him that he had read Her-
sey’s New Yorker article and was “much impressed with your intes-
tinal fortitude.” But he could not resist asking: “Where the hell were
you when the destroyer hove into sight, and exactly what were your
moves, and where the hell was your radar.” The underlying message
was: Some hero to have let your boat been sunk. Joe was also intensely
conscious of who got what awards. “My congrats on the [navy and
marine] medal,” he wrote Jack. “To get anything out of the Navy is
deserving of a campaign medal in itself. It looks like I shall return
home with the European campaign medal if I’m lucky.”
     But it was not enough. In August, Joe volunteered for a terribly
dangerous mission flying a navy PB4Y Liberator bomber loaded with
22,000 pounds of explosives, the highest concentration of dynamite
packed into a plane up to that point in the war. The objective was
for Joe and his copilot to fly the plane toward the principal German
launch site on the Belgian coast of the V-1s, which were then terrify-
ing London with their distinctive buzzing sound before impact and
destruction of lives and property. The two pilots were to parachute
out after activating remote-control guidance and arming systems,
turning the plane into a drone controlled by a second trailing
bomber. Although Joe assured Jack in his letter of August 10 that he
was not “intending to risk my fine neck . . . in any crazy venture,” he
knew that he had taken on what might well be a suicide mission.
Several earlier attempts to strike the V-1s in this way had failed with
casualties to the pilots, who had to bail out at dangerously high
speeds and low altitudes. “If I don’t come back,” Joe told a friend
shortly before taking off, “tell my dad . . . that I love him very much.”
     The mission on August 12 ended in disaster when Joe’s plane
exploded in the air before reaching the English Channel coast. An
                      An Unfinished Life    #   107

American electronics officer had warned Joe before he took off that
the remote-controlled arming system on the plane was faulty and
that a number of things — “radio static, a jamming signal, excessive
vibration, excessive turbulence, an enemy radio signal” — could pre-
maturely trigger the explosives. Joe waved off the warning, assured
by Headquarters Squadron that tests with 63,000 pounds of sand,
substituting for the cargo of explosives, had produced “excellent”
flight results and a “perfect” performance by the equipment.
     An air force report on August 14 assessing the causes of the
explosion speculated that it could have resulted from any one of
seven possibilities, including “static — electrical explosion” or “elec-
tric heating of Mark 143 electric fuse from unknown source.” The
analyst believed “a static electric explosion . . . highly improbable.”
Because “the explosion was of a high order,” he suspected “a pos-
sible electrical detonation . . . by a friendly or enemy stray or freak
radio frequency signal.”
     U.S. military authorities never established a clear cause of the
premature explosion. In 2001, however, a veteran of the British
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers serving as a telecommuni-
cations mechanic in Suffolk, England, where the Kennedy plane
exploded, came forward with an explanation. “The Americans, based
all over the South [of England], had turned off their radars,” he
explained, “so as not to interfere with their flying armada. Unfortu-
nately, they did not warn their British Allies of the exploit, so that it
came under the scrutiny of a large number of powerful and less-
powerful ground-based radars. Their pulses upset the delicate radio
controls of the two Liberator bombers, leading to gigantic aerial
explosions and the total destruction of the air armada.” It was a cru-
cial, and fatal, error of omission by the U.S. air command.
     Joe’s death devastated his father, who told a friend, “You know
how much I had tied my whole life up to his and what great things I
saw in the future for him.” To another friend, he explained that he
needed to interest himself in something new, or he would go mad,
“because all my plans for my own future were all tied up with young
Joe and that has gone to smash.” Joe’s death also confirmed his
father’s worst fear that U.S. involvement in the war would cost his
family dearly, deepening his antagonism to American involvements
abroad for the rest of his life.
     His brother’s death also evoked a terrible sense of loss in Jack. He
eased his grief partly by conceiving the idea for a book of personal
                   108   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

reminiscences about Joe by family and friends. As We Remember Joe
was not only a tribute to him but a kind of lament for all the fine
young men who had perished in the war and would never realize
their promise.
    His heroic death left Jack with unresolved feelings toward his
brother and father. His competition with Joe had “defined his own
identity,” he told Lem Billings. Now there was no elder brother to
compete against, and Joe Jr.’s death sealed his superiority “forever in
his father’s heart.” “I’m shadowboxing in a match the shadow is
always going to win,” Jack said.
    Less than a month later, the family suffered another blow when
Kathleen’s English husband, William Hartington, was also killed in
combat by a German sniper in Belgium. “The pattern of life for me
has been destroyed,” Kathleen wrote Jack in October. “At the
moment I don’t fit into any design.” Four months later, in February
1945, when Kick, as the family affectionately called her, heard news
of two other friends killed in the fighting, she wrote from England:
“The news of Bill Coleman really upset me because I know how
much he meant to Jack and how Jack always said that he would do
better than anyone else he knew, and then Bob MacDonald lost in a
submarine. Where will it all end?”
    “Luckily I am a Kennedy,” Kathleen told Lem Billings. “I have a
very strong feeling that makes a big difference about how to take
things. I saw Daddy and Mother about Joe and I know that we’ve all
got the ability to not be got down. There are lots of years ahead and
lots of happiness left in the world though sometimes nowadays
that’s hard to believe.”
    Jack shared Kathleen’s resiliency. He also saw valuable lessons in
human suffering and tragedy. As he later said of the poet Robert
Frost, “His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-
deception and easy consolation.” Having been spared in the war,
enjoying so much God-given talent, Jack was determined to make a
mark on the world. But how? It was a question he had been strug-
gling to answer for a number of years. Now, at long last, he would
begin to answer it.

     Public Service
     They are wrong who think that politics is like an ocean
     voyage or a military campaign, something to be done with
     some particular end in view, something which leaves off as
     soon as that end is reached. It is not a public chore, to be
     got over with. It is a way of life.
       — Plutarch

     There is no cause half so sacred as the cause of a people.
     There is no idea so uplifting as the idea of service to
       — Woodrow Wilson, October 31, 1912

        Choosing Politics
        I saw how ideally politics filled the Greek definition
        of happiness — “a full use of your powers along lines
        of excellence in a life-affording scope.”
           — John F. Kennedy (1960)

SIGMUND FREUD BELIEVED that a well-spent life rests on successful
engagement with Arbeit and Liebe — work and love. Both require dif-
ficult choices, and neither is made easier by the abundance of possi-
bilities open to the offspring of society’s most comfortable families.
      For Jack Kennedy, finding a life’s vocation was a crucial matter of
his early adulthood, but especially after he returned from the war
and turned twenty-eight in 1945. Some useful — indeed, vital —
occupation was the only acceptable goal for the Kennedy children
(except Rosemary). But the boys carried the family name and were
explicitly responsible for upholding its public reputation, and for
Joe Kennedy, the family’s reputation was a consuming concern. “The
desire to enhance the Kennedy image was a driving force in this
complicated man,” one biographer wrote, “and the skill he evinced
at creating just the right image was phenomenal.”
      From early on, Joe ruled out a business career for his sons as
likely to be more a source of frustration than satisfaction. He had
been highly successful at making money, and he did not want them
to stand in his shadow. Moreover, adding to a multimillion-dollar
fortune seemed pointless. Joe had made all the money the family
would ever need. Some other productive calling made more sense.
      A logical alternative was politics. The careers of Honey Fitz and
P. J. Kennedy were local examples, but Joe was thinking on a grander
scale. He believed that the Depression marked a sea change in Amer-
ican life, from a country dominated by business to one controlled by
                    112   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

government. In 1930, Joe declared that “in the next generation the
people who run the government would be the biggest people in
America.” High public office, which FDR’s administration opened to
Catholics and Jews, had replaced accumulating money as the greater
social good and a worthy aspiration for second- and third-generation
immigrants reaching for higher social status. Joe himself had crossed
over from business titan to FDR partisan and head of the Securities
and Exchange Commission and the Maritime Commission, then
ambassador to Britain; and as he did so, Joe Jr. and Jack became
increasingly attentive to public affairs.
     Although Jack’s navy service had put his career plans on hold,
he spent the war thinking about politics and international rela-
tions. In the fall of 1941, while serving in the ONI in Washington,
he had begun gathering material for a book on the isolationist-
internationalist split in the United States. Put off by strict ideological
advocates, he prided himself on his realism and pragmatism. Before
Pearl Harbor, he noted in a memo to himself that “for people to
take a die-hard position on the war is wrong. Our policy must be
flexible, fluid, if it is to stay abreast of the changing conditions of the
world.” In the winter of 1942, from his exile in Charleston, he had
fretted over reverses in the Pacific and worried about isolationist
impediments to American willingness to make necessary sacrifices
in the fighting. “I never thought in my gloomiest day that there was
any chance of our being defeated,” he wrote Lem Billings in Feb-
ruary. But American reluctance to look at widespread “examples of
inefficiency that may lick us” greatly troubled him. “It seems a rather
strange commentary that it will take death in large quantities to wake
us up. . . . I don’t think anyone really realizes that nothing stands
between us and the defeat of our Christian crusade against Paganism
except a lot of Chinks who never heard of God and a lot of Russians
who have heard about him but don’t want Him.”
     Jack’s qualified pessimism lasted as long as he remained side-
lined in Charleston. Once he got to the South Pacific and began to
take part in the fighting, he became more hopeful; his activism
relieved much of the feeling of defeatism that ran through his com-
mentaries in early 1942. The American naval victories in the Coral
Sea and at Midway in May and June of 1942, respectively, were also
salutary in changing his perspective.
     What remained the same, however, was an intense interest in the
political questions that would need attention as postwar challenges
                     An Unfinished Life    #   113

replaced military exigencies. During his almost nine months in the
war zone, while many of his fellow officers diverted themselves with
card games, Jack, according to his commander in the Solomons,
“spent most of his time looking for officers who weren’t in any
game, as he did with me. We’d sit in a corner and I’d recall all the
political problems in New Jersey and Long Island where I come
from. He did that with everybody — discussed politics.” One of
Jack’s navy friends in the Pacific recalled: “Oh, yeah, he had politics
in his blood. . . . We used to kid Jack all the time. I’d say, after the
war is over, Jack, I’m gonna work like hell and we’re going to carry
Louisiana for you.” Another of Jack’s pals, who remembered spend-
ing “a lot of time, every single day practically, with him” just before
Jack returned to the States, said, “He made us all very conscious of
the fact that we’d better . . . be concerned about why the hell we’re
out here, or else what’s the purpose of having the conflict, if you’re
going to come out here and fight and let the people that got us here
get us back into it again. . . . He made us all very aware of our obli-
gations as citizens of the United States to do something, to be
involved in the process.”
    In the winter of 1944–45, as he left the navy and settled outside
of Phoenix to recuperate from back surgery, Jack wrote an article,
“Let’s Try an Experiment for Peace,” which he hoped might con-
tribute to postwar stability. The essay formed a sharp departure from
the argument in Why England Slept. Whereas he had previously
pressed the case for a U.S. arms buildup in response to German and
Japanese aggression, he now warned against a postwar arms race that
could precipitate another conflict and cripple American democracy.
He predicted that an American effort to outbuild a big-power rival
such as Russia would lead Moscow to match U.S. military might and
would provoke smaller states to form alliances against the United
States. As bad, such an American buildup would divert resources
from productive domestic enterprise and the creation of jobs for
returning veterans. Jack feared that an effort “to compete with a dic-
tatorship like Russia in maintaining large armies for an indefinite
period” would destroy the U.S. economy and democracy. “Democ-
racy sleeps fitfully in an armed camp,” he concluded. Jack under-
estimated the economic benefits to the nation from continuing
defense production; ultimately, it was, of course, the Soviet Union that
could not bear the cost of the arms race. Nevertheless, he accurately
foresaw that an international struggle like the Cold War would put a
                   114    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

debilitating strain on America’s democratic institutions just as earlier
isolationists had warned.
     Although Jack saw his essay as innovative, editors at Life, Reader’s
Digest, and the Atlantic Monthly all rejected it. Reader’s Digest thought
the piece too “exhortative.” The Atlantic editor dismissed the article
as “an oversimplification of a very complicated subject. Some pro-
founder thinking is needed here and conclusions not based on
cliches,” he said. There was some merit in this dismissal: Jack’s argu-
ment was in fact not much more than a statement of liberal ortho-
doxy in 1945 America. Arms limitation, disarmament, and world
government were progressive prescriptions for postwar peace; even
future conservatives such as Ronald Reagan considered them viable
alternatives at the time.
     If Jack lacked originality in addressing postwar armament and
peace, at least he was well informed about foreign affairs; the same
was not true of domestic issues. Yet he worked hard to round him-
self out. During his stay in Arizona, he became friends with Pat Lan-
nan, a Chicago millionaire who was also nursing himself back to
health. Lannan explained that “labor was going to be a very impor-
tant force in the country.” “Jack,” Lannan told him, “you don’t know
the difference between an automatic screw machine and a lathe and
a punch press and you ought to!” Jack took Lannan’s words as a
challenge and asked his father to send him a crateful of books on
labor and labor law. Lannan remembered that Jack, with whom he
shared a cottage, “sat up to one or two in the morning reading those
books until he finished the whole crate.” The episode speaks vol-
umes about Jack’s combination of intense curiosity, ambition, and

IN APRIL 1945, shortly before the war ended in Europe, in response
to a suggestion from Joe, the Hearst Chicago Herald-American invited
Jack to cover the United Nations conference in San Francisco. He
jumped at the chance, perhaps seeing his work in journalism as a
prelude to a political career — a career whose scope might be hinted
at by the fact that writing for Hearst newspapers in Chicago and New
York (the Journal-American) was not an especially effective way to
win political standing in Massachusetts. In addition, in May 1945,
when Joe wrote daughter Kathleen about a possible appointment in
the new Truman administration, he said, “But if he’s going to give
me a job, I’d rather have him give it to Jack and maybe make him
                     An Unfinished Life    #   115

minister to some country or Assistant Secretary of State or Assistant
Secretary of the Navy.” That said, neither father nor son saw Jack
running for office.
     In sending Jack to San Francisco, the newspapers were not doing
the Kennedys a favor. They received good value for the $250 a dis-
patch they paid Jack. As the author of a successful book on foreign
affairs, someone with access to significant American and British offi-
cials — including the ambassador to Moscow, Averell Harriman;
Soviet expert Charles E. Bohlen; and British foreign secretary Anthony
Eden — and a navy hero who could speak “from a serviceman’s
point of view,” Jack had credibility with his editors and reading
audience as an expert on postwar international affairs.
     However, just how hard he worked is debatable. Arthur Krock
described Jack in his room at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, “dressed
for a black-tie evening, with the exception of his pumps and evening
coat . . . lying on his bed, propped up by three pillows, a highball
in one hand and the telephone receiver in the other. To the operator
he said, ‘I want to speak to the editor of the Chicago Herald Amer-
ican.’ (After a long pause:) ‘Not in? Well, put someone on to take a
message.’ Another pause. ‘Good. Will you see that the boss gets this
message as soon as you can reach him? Thank you. Here’s the mes-
sage: Kennedy will not be filing tonight.’ ”
     But however much of a social lion he may have been in San
Francisco, Jack did manage to file seventeen 300-word stories be-
tween April 28 and May 28, principally reporting tensions with the
Soviets and emphasizing a need for realism about what the new
world organization could achieve. Jack explained that Soviet foreign
minister Vyacheslav Molotov had shocked and frustrated the Ameri-
can and British delegations by his overbearing manner and insistent
demands to ensure his country’s national security. Jack warned against
expecting good relations with the USSR: Twenty-five years of distrust
between Russia and the West “cannot be overcome completely for a
good many years,” he accurately predicted. Yet the fact that the Sovi-
ets were participating in the conference and were interested in creat-
ing a world organization was a hopeful sign.
     But in the end, the conference eroded Jack’s optimism. By the
close of the meeting, he saw a war between Russia and the West as a
distinct possibility and the U.N. as an ineffective peacemaker. He
thought that the new world body would be little more than “a skele-
ton. Its powers will be limited. It will reflect the fact that there are
                   116   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

deep disagreements among its members. . . . It is unfortunate that
more cannot be accomplished here. It is unfortunate that unity for
war against a common aggressor is far easier to obtain than unity for
peace.” Jack feared that “the world organization that will come out
of San Francisco will be the product of the same passions and self-
ishness that produced the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.”
    Privately, Jack expanded on his views in a letter to a PT boat
shipmate. “Things cannot be forced from the top,” he said. “The
international relinquishing of sovereignty would have to spring from
the people,” but they were not yet ready for world government.
“We must face the truth that the people have not been horrified by
war to a sufficient extent to force them to go to any extent rather
than have another war. . . . War will exist until that distant day when
the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige
that the warrior does today.”
    With the close of the San Francisco Conference, Jack’s thoughts
turned to political developments in Europe, where the British were
about to hold an election and the victorious powers were planning a
summit meeting in Potsdam, Germany. His U.N. articles persuaded
the Hearst editors to send him to England and Germany to cover
what they hoped would be the next big international stories.
    After a month in England following Churchill’s campaign around
the country, Jack reluctantly concluded that despite his indomitable
war leadership, Churchill and his Conservative party faced a left-
wing tide that seemed likely to sweep them away. Perhaps blinded
by admiration for the man he saw as the most extraordinary leader
on the world scene, Jack could not bring himself to accept Chur-
chill’s probable defeat, and as the campaign came to a close, he fore-
cast a narrow Conservative victory, although he did not think it
would last long. It was only “a question of time before Labor gets an
opportunity to form the government,” Jack told American readers.
Labour’s triumph came sooner than Jack anticipated: The July elec-
tions replaced Churchill and gave Labour a landslide majority.
    The conclusion of the British elections freed Jack to travel to the
Continent as a guest of U.S. navy secretary James Forrestal. The sec-
retary, who knew Joe well and was greatly impressed by his twenty-
eight-year-old son, wanted Jack to join his staff in the Navy
Department. But first he invited Jack to go with him to Potsdam and
then around Germany for a look at the destruction of its cities and
factories from five years of bombing, and assess the challenges posed
                     An Unfinished Life    #   117

by rehabilitating a country divided into Russian and Western sectors.
In the course of their travels, Jack met or at least saw up close many
of the most important leaders of the day: President Harry Truman;
General Dwight D. Eisenhower; Britain’s new Labour leaders, Prime
Minister Clement Attlee and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin; and
Soviet foreign minister Molotov and Ambassador Andrey Gromyko.
When Forrestal’s plane landed in Frankfurt, a journalist recalled, “the
plane doors opened, and out came Forrestal. Then, to my amaze-
ment, Jack Kennedy. Ike was meeting Forrestal. So Jack met Ike.”
     Watching all these influential but fallible men in action stirred
feelings in Jack that he could do as well. His assumption came not
from arrogance or a belief in his own infallibility or even a convic-
tion that he could necessarily outdo the current crop of high govern-
ment officials but from the sort of self-confidence that sometimes
attaches itself to people reared among power brokers and encour-
aged to think of themselves as natural leaders. Aside from perhaps
Churchill, he believed that his ideas were a match for the officials —
East and West — he saw in action. The issue was to how make his
voice heard.

ENTERING POLITICS or taking on public obligations did not intim-
idate Jack. But it was nothing he had seriously thought to do as long
as his brother Joe was alive. As he explained later, “I never thought at
school or college that I would ever run for office myself. One politi-
cian was enough in the family, and my brother Joe was obviously
going to be that politician. I hadn’t considered myself a political
type, and he filled all the requirements for political success. When he
was twenty-four, he was elected as a delegate to the Democratic Con-
vention in 1940, and I think his political success would have been
assured. . . . My brother Joe was killed in Europe as a flier in August
1944 and that ended our hopes for him. But I didn’t even start to
think about a political profession for more than a year later.”
     In fact, discussions with his father and others about a political
career had begun earlier than Jack retrospectively claimed. There is
evidence that Joe raised the matter of a political career with his son
in December 1944, only a few months after Joe Jr.’s death, at Palm
Beach. Paul “Red” Fay, a navy friend from the Pacific, who spent the
Christmas holiday with Jack in Florida, recalled Jack telling him,
“When the war is over and you are out there in sunny California . . .
I’ll be back here with Dad trying to parlay a lost PT boat and a bad
                   118    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

back into a political advantage.” In August 1957, Joe told a reporter,
“I got Jack into politics. I was the one. I told him Joe was dead and
that it was therefore his responsibility to run for Congress.” At the
same time, Jack himself told another reporter, “It was like being
drafted. My father wanted his eldest son in politics. ‘Wanted’ isn’t
the right word. He demanded it. You know my father.”
     But nothing was settled that December. Jack still had not been
released from the navy, and his health was too precarious for any
firm planning. He was also reluctant to commit himself to a political
career. As he told Fay, “Dad is ready right now and can’t understand
why Johnny boy isn’t ‘all engines ahead full.’ ” One day in Palm
Beach, as he watched his father cross the lawn, he said to Fay, “God!
There goes the old man! There he goes figuring out the next step. I’m
in it now, you know. It’s my turn. I’ve got to perform.” Arthur Krock
was asked later whether he fully subscribed to the theory that Jack
was filling Joe’s shoes when he entered politics. He answered, “Yes.
In fact, I knew it. It was almost a physical event: now it’s your turn.”
And Jack “wasn’t very happy. It wasn’t his preference.” Joe himself
recalled in the 1957 interview that Jack “didn’t want to [do it]. He
felt he didn’t have ability. . . . But I told him he had to.”
     Still, despite his father’s wishes, Jack hesitated throughout 1945.
When Jack spoke to Lannan in Arizona about future plans early in
1945, “[he] said he thought he’d go into ‘public service.’ It was the
first time I’d ever heard that term,” Lannan recalled. “I said, ‘You
mean politics?’ He wouldn’t say ‘politics’ to save his life. It was ‘pub-
lic service.’ ” Such a phrase covered a multitude of possibilities. “I
take it that you definitely have your hat in the ring for a political
career,” Billings wrote him in January 1946. But in February, Jack
told Lem, “I am returning to Law School at Harvard . . . in the fall —
and then if something good turns up while I am there I will run for
it. I have my eye on something pretty good now if it comes
through.” Exactly what Jack had in mind remained unsaid, but it
was clearly no more than a contingency.
     If Jack was a reluctant candidate, he found compelling reasons to
try his hand at electoral politics. As his former headmaster George
St. John perceptively wrote Rose that August: “I am certain he [Jack]
never forgets he must live Joe’s life as well as his own.” Joe Sr. hoped
St. John was right. “Jack arrived home,” Joe wrote an English friend
on August 22, “and is very thin, but is becoming quite active in the
political life of Massachusetts. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him go
into public life to take Joe’s place.”
                      An Unfinished Life     #   119

     For someone who prided himself on his independence — whose
sense of self rested partly on questioning authority, on making up
his own mind about public issues and private standards — taking
on his elder brother’s identity was not Jack’s idea of coming into his
own. Indeed, if a political career were strictly a case of satisfying his
father’s ambitions and honoring his brother’s memory by fulfill-
ing his life plan, it is more than doubtful that he would have taken
on the assignment. To be sure, he felt, as he wrote Lem Billings, “ter-
ribly exposed and vulnerable” after his brother’s death. Joe’s passing
burdened him with an “unnamed responsibility” to his whole fam-
ily — to its desire to expand upon the public distinction established
by Joe Sr. and to fulfill Joe Jr.’s intention to reach for the highest
     Nor was his father completely confident that Jack was well suited
for the job. As Joe said later, his eldest son “used to talk about being
President some day, and a lot of smart people thought he would
make it. He was altogether different from Jack — more dynamic,
more sociable and easy going. Jack in those days back there when he
was getting out of college was rather shy, withdrawn and quiet. His
mother and I couldn’t picture him as a politician. We were sure he’d
be a teacher or a writer.” Mark Dalton, a politician close to the
Kennedys in 1945, remembered Jack as far from a natural. He did
not seem “to be built for politics in the sense of being the easygoing
affable person. He was extremely drawn and thin. . . . He was always
shy. He drove himself into this. . . . It must have been a tremendous
effort of will.” Nor was he comfortable with public speaking, im-
pressing one of his navy friends as unpolished: “He spoke very fast,
very rapidly, and seemed to be just a trifle embarrassed on stage.”
     Yet not everyone agreed. Lem Billings thought that politics was
Jack’s natural calling. “A lot of people say that if Joe hadn’t died, that
Jack might never have gone into politics,” Lem said much later. ”I
don’t believe this. Nothing could have kept Jack out of politics: I
think this is what he had in him, and it just would have come out,
no matter what.” Lem echoed the point in another interview:
“Knowing his abilities, interests and background, I firmly believe
that he would have entered politics even had he had three older
brothers like Joe.” Barbara Ward, an English friend of Jack’s sister
Kathleen, remembered meeting Jack during his visit to England in
1945. “He asked every sort of question of what were the pressures,
what were the forces at work, who supported what . . . and you
could see already that this young lieutenant [sic] was political to his
                    120   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

fingertips. . . . He seemed so young — but with an extraordinarily . . .
well-informed interest in the political situation he was seeing.”
     Jack himself was not as sure as Billings about the direction his
professional life would have taken had Joe lived. Political curiosity
and “well-informed interest” don’t automatically translate into polit-
ical ambition. But Jack did recall that his attraction to politics rested
on much more than family pressure or faithfulness to his brother’s
memory. He remembered that the responsibilities of power — “deci-
sions of war and peace, prosperity and recession” — were a magnet.
“Everything now depends upon what the government decides,” he
said in 1960. “Therefore, if you are interested, if you want to partici-
pate, if you feel strongly about any public question, whether it’s
labor, what happens in India, the future of American agriculture,
whatever it may be, it seems to me that governmental service is the
way to translate this interest into action.” If this sounds similar to
what his father had said in 1930 about how “the people who run
the government would be the biggest people in America,” it is not
only because the son had been influenced by the father but because
the father had been correct.
     Comparisons with other professions made politics especially
appealing to Jack. Alongside the drudgery of working in a law firm,
writing “legislation on foreign policy or on the relationship between
labor and management” seemed much more attractive. “How can
you compare an interest in [fighting an antitrust suit] with a life in
Congress where you are able to participate to some degree in deter-
mining which direction the nation will go?” Nor did he see journal-
ism as a more interesting profession. “A reporter is reporting what
happened. He is not making it happen. . . . It isn’t participating. . . . I
saw how ideally politics filled the Greek definition of happiness —
‘a full use of your powers along lines of excellence in a life-affording
scope.’ ” Two of Jack’s closest aides later said that Jack “was drawn
into politics by the same motive that drew Dwight Eisenhower and
other World War II veterans, with somewhat the same reluctance,
into the political arena — the realization that whether you really
liked it or not, this was the place where you personally could do the
most to prevent another war.” “Few other professions are so de-
manding,” Jack said later, “but few, I must add, are so satisfying to
the heart and soul.” In 1960, he told an interviewer, “The price of
politics is high, but think of all those people living normal average
lives who never touch the excitement of it.”
                     An Unfinished Life    #   121

     A strong family interest, great family wealth, and a personal
belief in the “necessity for adequate leadership in our political life,
whether in the active field of politics or in the field of public serv-
ice,” had all given him the incentive to seek elective office. Encour-
agement from professional politicians also persuaded him to run.
He remembered how after he gave a public address in the fall of
1945 to help raise money for the Greater Boston Community Fund
charity, “a politician came up to me and said that I should go into
politics, that I might be governor of Massachusetts in ten years.” Joe
Kane, a Kennedy cousin and highly regarded Boston pol, a man
described as “smart and cunning, with the composure of a sphinx
and ever present fedora pulled down over one eye in the manner of
[then popular movie actor] Edward G. Robinson,” encouraged Jack
by telling Joe, “There is something original about your young dare-
devil. He has poise, a fine Celtic map. A most engaging smile.” In a
dinner speech, “he spoke with perfect ease and fluency but quietly,
deliberately and with complete self-control, always on the happiest
terms with his audience. He was the master, not the servant of his
oratorical power. He received an ovation and endeared himself to all
by his modesty and gentlemanly manner.” From what we know
about Jack’s less-than-perfect public speaking abilities in 1945, Kane
was ingratiating himself with Joe. Nevertheless, he was among the
first to see the qualities that would ultimately make Jack such an
attractive national public figure.

WHILE JACK WAS MAKING UP his mind, Joe was setting the stage for
Jack’s political career. Asked later what he did for Jack, Joe denied
playing any part; he was eager to ensure that, as Rose wrote Kath-
leen, “whatever success there is will be due entirely to Jack and the
younger group.” When pressed by the interviewer, who said, “But a
father who loves his son as you so obviously do is bound to help his
son,” Joe replied, “I just called people. I got in touch with people I
knew. I have a lot of contacts. I’ve been in politics in Massachusetts
since I was ten.” Two of JFK’s later aides, Kenneth P. O’Donnell, a
college friend of Jack’s brother Bobby, and David F. Powers, a Boston
Irish politician Jack recruited for his 1946 campaign, downplayed
Joe’s part. They said that “his reputation as a prewar isolationist and
his falling out with the New Deal might do Jack some harm,” so Joe
stayed behind the scenes. But even there he confined himself to
“fretting over small details, worrying whether Jack’s unpolitician-like
                   122    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

style of campaigning was wrong for the Boston scene.” When JFK
biographer Herbert Parmet interviewed O’Donnell in 1976 about
Joe’s part in the events of 1945–46 that brought Jack into politics, he
“became heated at suggestions that the Ambassador had played a
prominent role. . . . He scoffed at stories about Joe Kennedy’s exper-
tise and . . . pointed out that the Ambassador had been ‘out of touch’
with Boston politics for a long time. ‘He no longer knew a goddamn
thing about what was going on in Massachusetts.’ ”
     The record says otherwise. In the spring and summer of 1945,
Joe made a special effort to renew the Kennedy presence in Massa-
chusetts. If memories of his ambassadorship did not serve him in
most parts of the country, his home state was more forgiving. In
April, Joe made the front page of the Boston Globe when he lunched
with Governor Maurice J. Tobin, gave a speech urging postwar reliance
on the city’s air and sea ports to expand its economy, announced a
half-million-dollar investment in the state, and agreed to become
the chairman of a commission planning the state’s economic future.
The chairmanship assignment allowed Joe to spend much of the
summer crisscrossing Massachusetts to speak with business, labor,
and government leaders. “When he took the economic survey job
for Tobin,” a Boston politician stated, “it was to scout the state polit-
ically for Jack.” In July, Joe added to the family’s public visibility
with a ship-launching ceremony for the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, which
reminded people that two of his sons were war heroes. There were
also discussions with Tobin about Jack’s becoming his running mate
in 1946 as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
     But Joe and Jack preferred a congressional campaign that could
send Jack to Washington, where he could have national visibility.
There was one problem, however: Which district? To this end, Joe
secretly persuaded James Michael Curley to leave his Eleventh Con-
gressional District seat for another run as Boston’s mayor. A fraud
conviction and additional legal actions had put Curley in substantial
debt, and he welcomed Joe’s hush-hush proposal to help him pay
off what he owed and to finance his mayoral campaign.
     The Eleventh District included Cambridge, with 30 percent of the
registered voters, where former Cambridge mayor and state legislator
Mike Neville was well entrenched; parts of Brighton, with 22,000
uncommitted Democrats; three Somerville wards, distinguished by
warehouses, factories, and a large rail center that employed many of
the area’s residents; one Charlestown ward populated by Irish Catho-
lic stevedores who worked at the nearby docks and supported John
                      An Unfinished Life     #   123

Cotter, well known in the Eleventh as the long-serving secretary to
the district’s congressmen; Boston’s North End, where Italian immi-
grants had largely replaced the Irish; and East Boston’s Ward One,
another Italian American working-class enclave, which, like the North
End, seemed warmly disposed to Joseph Russo, who had represented
them on the Boston City Council for almost eight years. It was by no
means a shoo-in for Jack.
    Despite his father’s help — or perhaps because of it — Jack con-
tinued to have great doubts about whether he was making the right
decision. He could not shake the feeling that he was essentially a
stand-in for Joe Jr. When he spoke with Look magazine, which pub-
lished an article about his campaign, he said that he was only doing
“the job Joe would have done.” Privately he told friends, “I’m just
filling Joe’s shoes. If he were alive, I’d never be in this.” He later told
a reporter, “If Joe had lived, I probably would have gone to law
school in 1946.” He disliked the inevitable comparisons between
him and his brother, in which he seemed all too likely to come off
second-best, but it seemed impossible to shake them.
    Jack’s poor health also gave him pause. One returning war vet-
eran who knew Jack in 1946 said, “I was as thin as I could be at that
time, but Jack was even thinner. He was actually like a skeleton,
thin and drawn.” Despite the steroids he was apparently taking, he
continued to have abdominal pain and problems gaining weight.
Backaches were a constant problem. Because hot baths gave him
temporary relief, he spent some time every day soaking in a tub. But
it was no cure-all, and considerable discomfort was the price of a
physically demanding campaign. He also had occasional burning
when urinating, which was the result of a nonspecific urethritis dat-
ing from 1940 and a possible sexual encounter in college, which
when left untreated became a chronic condition. He was later diag-
nosed as having “a mild, chronic, non-specific prostatitis” that sulfa
drugs temporarily suppressed. Moreover, a strenuous daily routine
intensified the symptoms — fatigue, nausea, and vomiting — of the
Addison’s disease that would not be diagnosed until 1947. A more
sedate lifestyle must have seemed awfully attractive when compared
with the long hours of walking and standing demanded of anyone
trying to win the support of thousands of voters scattered across a
large district.
    Jack also felt temperamentally unsuited to an old-fashioned
Boston-style campaign. False camaraderie was alien to his nature.
He was a charmer but not an easygoing, affable character like his
                    124    #   ROBERT       DALLEK

grandfather Honey Fitz, who loved mingling with people. Drinking
in bars with strangers with whom he swapped stories and jokes was
not a part of JFK’s disposition. “As far as backslapping with the poli-
ticians,” he said, “I think I’d rather go somewhere with my familiars
or sit alone somewhere and read a book.”
     One local pol who met Jack in 1946 “didn’t think he [Jack] had
much on the ball at all. He was very retiring. You had to lead him by
the hand. You had to push him into the pool rooms, taverns, clubs,
and organizations.” He would give a speech at a luncheon and try to
escape as quickly as possible afterward without trying to win over
members of the audience. “He wasn’t a mingler,” one campaign vol-
unteer recalled. “He didn’t mingle in the crowd and go up to people
and say, ‘I’m Jack Kennedy.’ ” The volunteer remembered how Jack
had snubbed him and his wife one afternoon when he saw them on
the street walking their baby in a carriage. “Sometimes,” the volun-
teer said, “I used to feel that ice water rolled in his veins. . . . I don’t
know if he was shy or a snob. All I’m getting at is that he was very
unpolitical for a man who was going to run for Congress.” Jack him-
self said, “I think it’s more of a personal reserve than a coldness,
although it may seem like coldness to some people.”
     Jack also doubted that he could bring many voters to his side
with his oratory. He accurately thought of himself as a pretty dull
public speaker at the time. Stiff and wooden were the words most
often used to describe his delivery. One observer said that Jack spoke
“in a voice somewhat scratchy and tensely high-pitched,” projecting
“a quality of grave seriousness that masked his discomfiture. No
trace of humor leavened his talk. Hardly diverging from his prepared
text, he stood as if before a blackboard, addressing a classroom full
of pupils who could be expected at any moment to become unruly.”
     Family members tried to help him become a more effective
speaker. At one gathering, his sister Eunice noticeably mouthed his
words as he spoke. Afterward, Jack told her, “Eunice, you made me
very very nervous. Don’t ever do that to me again.” And Eunice said,
“Jack, I thought you were going to forget your speech.”
     Joe was more subtle and successful in boosting him. Eunice
recalled that “many a night when he’d come over to see Daddy after
a speech, he’d be feeling rather down, admitting that the speech
hadn’t really gone very well or believing that his delivery had put
people in the front row fast asleep. ‘What do you mean,’ Father
would immediately ask. ‘Why, I talked to Mr. X and Mrs. Y on the
phone right after they got home and they told me they were sitting
                     An Unfinished Life    #   125

right in the front row and that it was a fine speech. And then I talked
with so-and-so and he said last year’s speaker at the same event had
forty in the audience while you had ninety.’ And then, and this was
the key, Father would go on to elicit from Jack what he thought he
could change to make it better the next time. I can still see the two of
them sitting together, analyzing the entire speech and talking about
the pace of delivery to see where it worked and where it had gone
     Jack also had to worry about disciplining himself sufficiently to
keep to a schedule. Even before he announced his candidacy, a
friendly critic warned him that he needed to rein himself in. “You
must organize yourself first and your campaign second,” Drew Porter,
a bank official, wrote him. “You cannot run a campaign for Congress
on a Fraternity brotherhood basis. It must be on a strict, hard boiled,
cut throat, business basis. I was shocked this A.M. when you
answered the phone. Our original meeting was for 10 o’clock and
you moved it up to 11 o’clock. OK. At 11:45, I called you. In busi-
ness and politics, we have to break many dates, but we always
promptly call and say we cannot be on time or we cannot keep the
appointment. In this case, it was not important, but in others, you
will lose contact and friends.”
     The advice only partly registered on Jack. Dave Powers, who
became a principal aide in the campaign and a friend with whom
Kennedy could find welcome relaxation from the daily political
grind, remembered that “Jack had a funny sense of time and dis-
tance. . . . I’ve been with him in his apartment in the middle of
Boston and he’s soaking in the tub at quarter of eight, and we’re due
in Worcester at eight, and he’d say, ‘Dave, how far is it to Worcester?’
And I’d say, ‘Well, if we’re driving, we’re late already.’ It would go
like that.”
     Jack also justifiably worried that political opponents would
attack him as an outsider with no real roots in the Eleventh Con-
gressional District. In fact, newspaper stories and private specula-
tion that he would run brought out just such antagonism. Before
he entered the race, an encounter with Dan O’Brien, a Cambridge
undertaker with political clout and a Neville supporter, confirmed
Jack’s worst fears. In a meeting at O’Brien’s funeral parlor on a
snowy night in January, Jack looked to O’Brien “like a boy just out
of school who had no experience politically, and . . . I don’t think he
even knew where the district was.” O’Brien told him scornfully,
“You’re not going to win this fight. You’re a carpetbagger. You don’t
                   126    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

belong here. I’ll tell you what I’ll do — if you pull out of the fight
and let Neville go to Washington, I guarantee you I’ll get you the job
down there as Neville’s secretary.” As Jack left, he vented his annoy-
ance with the sort of wry humor that became a trademark of his
political career, mentioning that he “would rather not have O’Brien
handle his funeral arrangements.” O’Brien and Neville went to see
Joe before Jack announced his candidacy: They said that if Jack did
not run, they would give him “a shot later on. And he [Joe] coldly
sat back in his chair and he said, ‘Why[,] you fellows are crazy. My
son will be President in 1960.’ ”
     The private show of antagonism to Jack’s candidacy became a
drumbeat in the speeches and newspaper columns of opponents.
One of Jack’s competitors for the congressional seat said in a radio
talk, “We have a very young boy, a college graduate, whose family
boasts of great wealth. It is said they are worth thirty million dollars.
This candidate has never held public office.” He did not even have a
residence in the district. “He is registered at the Hotel Bellevue in
Boston, and I daresay that he has never slept there. He comes from
New York. His father is a resident of Florida and because of his
money is favored by the newspapers of Boston. . . . Insofar as certain
responsibilities are concerned, this candidate does not live in the
district . . . and knows nothing about the problems of its people.”
     One newspaper, the East Boston Leader, was furious at Jack’s
“unmerited” candidacy. They parodied his campaign by announcing:
“Congress seat for sale — No experience necessary — Applicant
must live in New York or Florida — Only millionaires need apply.”
A Leader columnist belittled Jack as “Jawn” Kennedy, the rich kid
who was “[ever] so British. . . . In my opinion, Kennedy’s candidacy
is the nerviest thing ever pulled in local politics. He moves in and
establishes a phoney residence in a hotel and solely on the strength
of his family connections announces that he is undecided whether
to become lieutenant governor or a congressman. . . . What has he,
himself, ever done to merit your vote?”
     Personal limitations and the prospect of ad hominem attacks
certainly discouraged Jack, but the challenge of mastering a demand-
ing political campaign was more an inducement to run than to back
away. Nor did he see harsh personal attacks as a reason to stand
aside; he did not need to be a politician to understand that politics
was a tough game in which competitors went all-out to win. For
him, on one level politics was another form of the competitive
                      An Unfinished Life    #   127

sports like football or boat racing that excited his lifelong drive to be
the best. Indeed, the fight was the fun. “The fascination about poli-
tics,” he told a reporter in 1960, “is that it’s so competitive. There’s
always that exciting challenge of competition.”
     Of greater concern to him were practical questions about how to
defeat better-known local rivals for the Eleventh District seat by win-
ning enough blue-collar ethnic — mainly Irish and Italian — votes
in an area that extended across Boston and some of its suburbs. It
was no small challenge. When Dave Powers first met Jack, he pri-
vately echoed Jack’s own concerns. “Here’s a millionaire’s son from
Harvard trying to come into an area that is longshoremen, wait-
resses, truck drivers, and so forth,” Powers remembered. “I said,
‘To start with, I’d get somebody on the waterfront for sure, some-
body tied up with the labor unions and all that.’ And he’s writing
this stuff down, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘It won’t do him any
good. A millionaire’s son from Harvard, they’re going to laugh at
him down there.’ ”
     The challenge as Jack saw it was not only to create some sort of
connection to the working-class folks living in the district but also to
overcome the apathy that marked a primary campaign in which no
more than 20 to 25 percent of voters usually went to the polls. How
could he convince people that a vote for Jack Kennedy might make a
difference in their lives? He had every confidence that his war record
and seriousness of purpose would make voters see him as a deserv-
ing young man. But would that be enough?
     Curley, whose well-funded mayoral campaign was successful,
said, “With those two names, Kennedy and Fitzgerald, how could he
lose?” Jack, too, understood that his family ties would give him visi-
bility in the campaign from the moment he announced his candi-
dacy. He also appreciated that his background made him “a new
kind of Democrat in town, a sort of aristocrat of the masses, at once
engagingly modest yet quick of mind, well-read and self-confident.”
One of Jack’s backers said, “Compared to the Boston Irish politicians
we grew up with, Jack Kennedy was like a breath of spring. He never
said to anybody, ‘How’s Mother? Tell her I said hello.’ He never even
went to a wake unless he knew the deceased personally.” Seeing
Jack’s amateur status as a distinct asset, especially after a poll Joe
commissioned revealed greater interest in Jack as a war hero than as
a politician, the campaign gave high visibility to returning veterans
working on Jack’s behalf, men such as Ted Reardon, Joe Jr.’s Harvard
                   128    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

classmate, and Tony Galluccio, Jack’s college friend. The emphasis
was on public-spirited young men who had done their war service
and now intended to set things right at home.
     Yet none of these advantages would be sufficient to win an elec-
tion. Jack needed to get out on the hustings and impress himself on
voters as someone who understood their needs and problems.
Despite his misgivings, he began going into saloons and barber-
shops and pool halls and restaurants to talk to the men and women
who controlled his fate: the letter carriers, cabdrivers, waitresses, and
stevedores. He went to factories and the docks, where he stood on
street corners introducing himself and asking for votes. One day
when Joe saw Jack across a street shaking hands with longshoremen,
he said to his companion, “I would have given odds of five thou-
sand to one that this thing we [are] seeing could never have hap-
pened. I never thought Jack had it in him.”
     Gradually, he learned to give expression to his natural charm
and sincerity. At a forum with several other candidates, all of whom
made much of their humble backgrounds, Jack disarmingly de-
clared, “I seem to be the only person here tonight who didn’t come
up the hard way.” The audience loved his candor. At an American
Legion hall, where he spoke to gold star mothers (women who had
lost a son in the war), Jack honored the memories of the fallen men
by discussing the sacrifices in war that promised a better, more peace-
ful future, adding, “I think I know how all you mothers feel because
my mother is a Gold Star mother, too.” The reaction to his talk,
Dave Powers recalled, was unlike anything he had ever seen: an out-
pouring of warmth and affection that seemed to ensure the support
of everyone in the audience.
     And there was the hard work of campaigning. Out of bed by
6:15–6:30 in the morning, Jack would be on the street by 7:00 — in
time to stand at the factory gates and docks for an hour or more to
shake hands with arriving workers. After a quick breakfast, he would
start pounding the pavement, knocking on every door in neighbor-
hoods with triple-decker houses. It made a strong impression on
startled housewives, who had never had that sort of contact with a
political candidate before. After lunch, he and his aides would
“hit the barber shops, the neighborhood candy or variety stores and
the taverns, the fire stations and the police stations. At four o’clock,
back at the Navy Yard, catching the workers coming out of a differ-
ent gate from the one where we worked that morning,” Dave Powers
                     An Unfinished Life   #   129

recalled. They would ride the trolley cars from Park Street to Harvard
Square, with Jack walking the aisles, shaking hands, and introducing
himself, “Hello, I’m Jack Kennedy.”
     In the evenings, Jack would make the rounds of three to six
house parties organized by his sisters Eunice and Pat. They included
anywhere from fifteen to seventy-five young women — schoolteach-
ers, nurses, telephone operators — who would be served tea or cof-
fee with cookies and would listen to an introductory spiel, more an
entertainment than a political appeal, followed by Jack’s arrival, a
brief comment from him, and a question-and-answer session. Jack
was at his best with these small groups, flashing his disarming smile,
answering questions with a leg draped over an armchair, combining
serious discussion with boyish informality. Within days, the cam-
paign would issue invitations to all the young women to become
volunteers for Kennedy. The technique created a corps of workers
who expanded Jack’s ability to reach out to hundreds and possibly
thousands of other voters.
     Jack paid a heavy price in physical exhaustion. The people
around him noticed his bulging eyes, jaundiced complexion, and a
limp caused by unremitting back pain. They marveled at his stamina
and refusal to complain. But he saw no alternative: The demanding
schedule was indispensable not just in making contacts but in
destroying the claims by his opponents that he was simply a spoiled
rich man’s son who never had to work for a living.
     But all the hard work would not have paid off in votes if he did
not have something meaningful to say, something that made ordi-
nary people feel he was a worthy young man who understood their
personal concerns. In a stroke of genius, Joe Kane captured Jack’s
appeal as a new kind of Irish politician who reflected the past and
the future by coining a compelling campaign slogan: “The New Gen-
eration Offers a Leader.”
     Kane and Jack’s other advisers did not have to talk Jack into
emphasizing his war record as a way to reach voters. Patriotism
remained a strong suit in 1945–46 and a war hero commanded
unqualified public approval. Although Jack was not comfortable
selling himself in this role, he accepted it as an essential starting
point of his campaign. Thus, in January 1946, he helped set up the
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the Eleventh
District with himself as post commander; agreed to preside over a
national VFW convention; and joined the American Legion. He also
                   130   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

crafted a speech that described the sinking of PT 109, downplaying
his part in the rescue operation while praising the heroism of his
men. The speech also recounted the special camaraderie among
combat troops and called on his audiences to work together in a
similar fashion to secure the country’s future. His father financed
the distribution throughout the district of 100,000 copies of “Sur-
vival,” a Reader’s Digest summary of John Hersey’s New Yorker article
about PT 109.
    However strong the appeal of his war record, district voters were
also keenly interested in securing their economic future. Mindful of
the need to address their domestic concerns, Jack spoke repeatedly
during the campaign about the bread-and-butter issues that mat-
tered most to working-class voters. He promised to fight to make
housing available for returning veterans and to create more and
better-paying jobs. There was no specific agenda of just how he
would accomplish any of this, but when the League of Women Vot-
ers asked him to describe the most important postwar issues fac-
ing the country, he listed housing, military strength to ensure the
national security, expanded Social Security benefits, raising the mini-
mum wage to 65 cents an hour, and modernizing Congress.
    As important as what he advocated was the means he used to
get his name, war record, and message before the public. And here
he had the advantage of Joe’s wealth. Joe may have spent between
$250,000 and $300,000 on the campaign, though the precise amount
will never be known since so much of it was handed out in cash by
Eddie Moore, Joe’s principal aide. (A frequent location for Kennedy
campaign financial exchanges was in pay toilets. “You can never
be too careful in politics about handing over money,” Moore said.)
It was “a staggering sum” for a congressional race in 1946, Joe Kane
remembered. “It was the equivalent of an elephant squashing a
peanut,” two political journalists wrote later. Joe himself is supposed
to have said, “With what I’m spending I could elect my chauffeur.” It
was, for example, six times the amount Tip O’Neill would spend six
years later to win Jack’s open seat. As Kane told the two reporters,
“[Everything Joe] got, he bought and paid for. And politics is like
war. It takes three things to win. The first is money and the second is
money and the third is money.” Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the Califor-
nia State Assembly in the 1960s, echoed the point: “Money is the
mother’s milk of politics.”
    Joe’s money allowed the campaign to hire a public relations
firm, which then saturated the district with billboard, subway, news-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   131

paper, and radio ads and direct mailings. The visual displays were
headed “Kennedy for Congress” and contained a picture of Jack with
a war vet’s father pointing at Jack and saying, “There’s our man,
son.” Joe’s spending also paid for polls that persuaded the campaign
to stress Jack’s war service and for locally managed campaign head-
quarters in every section of the district. With only a single office in
their home neighborhoods, Jack’s opponents could not match the
aggressive promotion of his candidacy. Mike Neville, Jack’s principal
opponent, complained to a companion as they walked past a craps
game, “Only way I’ll break into the newspapers will be if I join that
game and get pinched by the cops.”
    The money also permitted the campaign to stage an elaborate
event at the Hotel Commander in Cambridge, a fancy establishment
to which most of the invited guests had never been. The mainly Irish
ladies who received engraved, hand-addressed invitations to attend a
reception to meet the entire Kennedy family turned out in formal
gowns — many of them rented — to shake hands with these new
Boston Brahmins and bask in the glow of their success. Joe, in white
tie and tails, and Rose, dressed in the latest Paris fashion, greeted
almost 1,500 delighted guests. The event created a traffic jam in Har-
vard Square, and the newspapers carried prominently placed stories
about the “tea.” One reporter said it was “a demonstration unparal-
leled in the history of Congressional fights in this district.” Coming
three days before the primary, one old Boston pol predicted, “This
kid will walk in.”
    The evening house parties and hotel reception also allowed Jack
to reconnect with his sisters Eunice, Pat, and Jean, four, seven, and
eleven years, respectively, his junior. Away at Choate, Harvard, and
then the navy while they were growing up, Jack was not as close
to them as he had been to Joe Jr. and Kathleen. The same was true
of the twenty-year-old Bobby and the fourteen-year-old Ted. The
campaign became an exercise in family togetherness that pleased Joe
and Rose and deepened Jack’s affection for his siblings.
    All the hard work and family commitment to the campaign paid
off in a decisive primary victory. Jack won 22,183 votes to Mike
Neville’s 11,341, John Cotter’s 6,671, and Joe Russo’s 5,661. Two
other candidates split 5,000 votes, another came in below 2,000,
and four others scored in the hundreds. Jack’s share of the ballots
was a solid 40.5 percent, but the turnout of only 30 percent of
potential voters meant that Jack had won the nomination with only
12 percent of the district’s Democratic voters. It was hardly a ringing
                   132   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

endorsement or a demonstration that a compelling young politician
with a golden future had come on the scene. One of Jack’s backers
recalled that “it was very, very quiet at campaign headquarters. . . .
We were happy that Jack had won, but there certainly was no
tremendous victory celebration that night.”
     There was never any question about Jack’s defeating a Republi-
can who commanded only 30 percent of the district’s registered vot-
ers. But a weak showing in November would not bode well for Jack’s
future as a Democrat in a largely Democratic state and country.
Nor was it reassuring that the Republicans seemed likely to score
impressive gains in Congress and recapture control of the House and
Senate for the first time since 1930. Jack’s frustration at the low
voter turnout in his district found expression in a talk at Choate in
September: “In Brookline, a very well-to-do community, only twenty
percent of the people voted in the primary,” he said. “We must
recognize that if we do not take an interest in our political life we
can easily lose at home what so many young men so bloodily won
     To meet the task of establishing himself more strongly in the
district as a good party man, Jack gave a speech titled “Why I Am
a Democrat.” It sounded the Roosevelt/New Deal themes that had
made the Democrats the majority party in the country. He was not a
Democrat simply because his family was tied to the party, he said.
Rather it was because the Democrats for decades, and especially
under FDR’s leadership after 1932, had met the test of seeing to
the national well-being at home and abroad. In the spirit of the
New Deal, Jack urged delegates to the Veterans of Foreign Wars con-
vention in September to pass a resolution approving the Wagner-
Ellender-Taft Bill providing for low-cost public housing to help
veterans find affordable places to live.
     However, with inflation, strikes by union labor, postwar scarcity
of consumer goods, and fears of communist aggression abroad and
subversion at home dogging Harry Truman’s administration and
congressional Democrats, Jack saw party identity as insufficient. The
Republican refrain carried a compelling message: “Had enough
shortages? Had enough inflation? Had enough strikes? Had enough
Communism?” Jack joined in. “The time has come when we must
speak plainly on the great issue facing the world today. The issue is
Soviet Russia,” which he described as “a slave state of the worst sort.”
Moreover, it had “embarked upon a program of world aggression”
                     An Unfinished Life   #   133

and unless the “freedom-loving countries of the world” stopped Rus-
sia now, they would “be destroyed.” The Soviet threat represented
both a “moral and physical” crisis. This speech, delivered over the
radio in Boston in October and repeated several times in the closing
days of the campaign, struck a resonant chord with thousands of
Jack’s constituents.
    The November 5 vote produced a national and statewide Repub-
lican tidal wave. In Massachusetts, the Democrats lost a U.S. Senate
seat and the governorship; nationally, the Democrats lost control of
both houses of Congress for the first time since 1930. Jack, however,
did just fine. Lester Bowen, his Republican opponent, managed only
26,007 votes to Jack’s 69,093. It was a decisive victory for a twenty-
nine-year-old political novice and launched a House career that held
out promise of greater future victories.

        The Congressman
        Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says
        nothing. Nobody listens — and then everybody disagrees.
          — Senator Alexander Wiley quoting a Russian observer (1947)

JACK’S ARRIVAL in Washington in January 1947 coincided with a
dramatic turnabout in Democratic party fortunes and mounting
national concern about the communist threat. With numerous labor
walkouts over insufficient wage hikes to meet a 6.5 percent inflation
rate in 1946 and growing fears of communist subversion and ex-
pansion, the country had rewarded the Republicans with a fifty-eight-
seat majority in the House and a four-seat advantage in the Senate.
    Harry Truman took the brunt of the public beating. In his
twenty-one months in office his approval ratings had fallen a stag-
gering 55 points, from 87 percent to 32 percent. Republicans joked
that the president woke up feeling stiff most mornings because of
trying to put his foot in his mouth. They wondered how Roosevelt
would have handled the country’s problems, and asked, “I wonder
what Truman would do if he were alive.” Members of Truman’s party
offered little comfort. Arkansas congressman J. William Fulbright
suggested that the president appoint Republican senator Arthur Van-
denberg secretary of state and then resign so that, in the absence of
a vice president, Vandenberg could replace him. Truman privately
responded that Fulbright should be known as “Halfbright.”
    Rising Soviet-American tensions over Eastern Europe, Greece,
Turkey, and Iran — all of which Moscow seemed intent on domi-
nating — aroused fears of another war. And though an American
monopoly of atomic weapons gave the United States a considerable
advantage, the American public shuddered at the possibility of killing
                     An Unfinished Life    #   135

millions of Soviet citizens. A civil war in China between Chiang Kai-
shek’s nationalists and Mao Tse-tung’s communists aroused addi-
tional fears that U.S. armed forces might have to intervene in Asia.
Columnist Walter Lippmann wondered how a president who had lost
the support of the country could possibly deal effectively with these
foreign threats. As troubling, alleged communist infiltration of the
government seemed to threaten the country’s traditional way of life.
In 1946, news of a Soviet spy ring in Canada and accusations of
“communist sympathizers,” or even party members, in the govern-
ment agitated the public. Massachusetts’ own Joseph Martin, the new
House Speaker, declared that there was “no room in the government
of the United States for any who prefer the Communistic system.”

NO SPECIAL CEREMONY among the Kennedys marked Jack’s entrance
into Congress. The family, especially Joe, saw it as little more than a
first step. John Galvin, the 1946 campaign’s public relations director,
recalled that the Kennedys were “always running for the next job.”
(Years later Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Jack and Bobby’s friend and asso-
ciate, was asked whether Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen
Kennedy Townsend, Bobby’s eldest child, was interested in a higher
office. “Is she a Kennedy?” he replied.)
     For freshman House Democrats eager to make their mark, the
next two years under Republican control promised little personal
gain. A system that favored the most senior members of the majority
party meant that newcomers such as Jack would do well to estab-
lish themselves as strong voices for local constituents and tempo-
rarily give up any idea of leading significant legislation through
Congress. But Jack’s agenda did not include some major legislative
triumph. He was less interested in what he could accomplish in the
House, which he never saw as providing much opportunity for sig-
nificant national leadership, than in using the office as a political
launching pad.
     “I think from the time he was elected to Congress, he had no
thought but to go to the Senate as fast as he could,” Arthur Krock
said. “He wanted scope, which a freshman in the House cannot
have, and very few actually of the seniors; so that I think the House
was just a way-station.” Kennedy campaign biographer James Mac-
Gregor Burns agreed: “The life of the House did not excite him. It is
doubtful that he spent ten minutes considering the possibility of the
                   136   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

     This is not to suggest that Jack had little regard for the lead-
ers of the Eightieth Congress. Speaker Martin and majority leader
Charles A. Halleck of Indiana commanded his respect, as did veteran
Democrats Sam Rayburn of Texas, whose service in the House dated
from 1912 and included fourteen years as Speaker, and John W.
McCormack of Massachusetts, the party’s second-most-powerful
House member. But most of the leadership (the Republican chair-
men and ranking minority members of the chamber’s principal
committees) impressed the twenty-nine-year-old Jack Kennedy as
being gray and stodgy — as indeed they were. Ranging in age from
sixty-eight to eighty-three, the dominant figures on the Appropria-
tions, Ways and Means, Rules, Banking and Currency, and Foreign
Affairs Committees were all conservative men who worshiped at the
altar of party regularity and, in the words of one observer, looked
like legislators — “industrious, important, responsible, high-minded,
and — however deceptively in certain cases — sober.” As for many
other members of the House, Jack seemed to share Mark Twain’s
view: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member
of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
     Though in theory Jack liked the idea of being one of only 435
congressmen in a country of 150 million people, he had certainly
felt a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from the
publication of his book and the wartime heroics that had given him
national attention. His friend Chuck Spalding said that “the job as a
congressman after he had it for a little while began to look like
a [Triple A] League job to a major-league player.” One House col-
league watched Jack saunter into the chamber with his hands in his
pockets and an attitude that said “Well, I guess if you don’t want to
work for a living, this is as good a job as any.” Jack said of another
Massachusetts representative, “I never felt he did much in the Con-
gress, but I never held that against him because I don’t think I did
much. I mean you can’t do much as a Congressman.” Jack was often
so downcast about the day’s work in the office or on the House floor
that he practiced swinging a golf club in his inner office to relieve
the tedium.
     “We were just worms in the House — nobody paid much atten-
tion to us nationally,” Jack said. “Congressmen get built up in their
districts as if they were extraordinary,” he declared in 1959. “Most
other Congressmen and most other people outside the district don’t
know them.” Lem Billings recalled that Jack “found most of his fel-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   137

low congressmen boring, preoccupied as they all seemed to be with
their narrow political concerns. And then, too, he had terrible prob-
lems with all the arcane rules and customs which prevented you
from moving legislation quickly and forced you to jump a thousand
hurdles before you could accomplish anything. All his life he had
had troubles with rules externally imposed and now here he was,
back once again in an institutional setting.”
     Jack’s advance had to be carefully orchestrated. Running too
soon for the governorship or a Senate seat could work against him,
his reach for higher office taking on the appearance of self-serving
ambition devoid of serious interest in public service. And that would
have been misleading, because genuine idealism and a core concern
with the national well-being were central to his eagerness for politi-
cal advancement. He also needed to learn some things before taking
the next step. “I wasn’t equipped for the job. I didn’t plan to get into
it, and when I started out as a Congressman, there were lots of
things I didn’t know, a lot of mistakes I made, maybe some votes
that should have been different,” he recalled. One of them was sup-
porting Republican attacks on Roosevelt, particularly his “conces-
sions” to Stalin at Yalta, which became synonymous with wartime
appeasement of Russia.
     Since so few congressmen ever end up with memorable legis-
lative records, election to higher office can be a useful yardstick of
performance in the Lower House. For most, however, the House is as
high as they get. Indeed, of the thousands and thousands of men
and women who served in the House between 1789 and 1952,
when Jack would try for the Senate, only 544 won seats in the Upper
House. But being a Kennedy was about changing the odds.

BECAUSE NO ONE could be sure when Jack would undertake a state-
wide campaign, first he had to secure a hold on his congressional
district. To this end, he and Joe hired reliable aides to staff Washing-
ton and Boston offices that could respond effectively to constituent
demands. At the same time, convinced that it was never too soon
to begin reaching for higher office, Joe began using his money and
connections to build Jack’s public image, both in Massachusetts and
beyond. The objective was to identify Jack with as many major
national issues as possible: It would help make him less cynical
about being a junior congressman with no influence and would make
it more likely that voters would see him as a worthy representative
                   138   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

trying to do right by both the Eleventh District and the national
    In Washington, Jack occupied room 322 in the Old House Office
Building, a two-room suite in “freshman row,” where all the new-
comers were housed. It was “about as far from the Capitol . . . as you
could get,” one of Jack’s aides said. Ted Reardon headed the staff.
Though bright, talented, handsome, and athletic, Reardon was a pas-
sive character who was content to be a man Friday. He “had a brain
but unfortunately he didn’t use it that much,” one of his office
mates recalled. “I used to get annoyed with him. He just wouldn’t
apply himself. Much of the time, he wasn’t in the office.”
    The other Washington staffer who came down from Boston
was Billy Sutton, “the court jester,” as Jack and the rest of the staff
called him. Sutton was Mr. Personality, buzzing around the Capitol,
quickly getting to know everybody who was anyone. “It was good,”
the office secretary said, “because if you needed anything, Billy
always knew somebody.” Jack saw Sutton’s gift for mimicry and
affinity for practical jokes as a valuable asset, especially when set
alongside daily office chores. Billy was a perfect intermediary. Jack
once encouraged him to get on the phone and imitate radical con-
gressman Vito Marcantonio of the American Labor party. At Jack’s
urging, Billy called fashion designer Oleg Cassini’s wife and in a
heavily accented voice asked her to speak at a rally for Progressive
party candidate Henry Wallace. Jack dined out for days afterward on
her “speechless indignation.” More important, Jack did not like
greeting constituents — pressing the flesh, as his fellow congressman
from Texas Lyndon Johnson described it — and was especially put
off by tales of woe from constituents looking for help. “I can’t do it,”
he told his Boston staff after listening to just a few of the many favor
seekers scheduled to see him. “You’ll have to call them off.” Sutton,
with his gift of gab, was able to satisfy most constituent complaints
on his own.
    The mainstay of the Washington office was Mary Davis. A year
younger than Jack, she joined his staff after eight years as a secretary
to other congressmen. She was a pro who managed everything.
“Mary Davis was unbelievable,” Billy Sutton said. “She could answer
the phone, type a letter, and eat a chocolate bar all at once. She was
the complete political machine, knew everybody, how to get any-
thing done. . . . When Mary came in, you could have let twelve
people go.” Jack “never did involve himself in the workings of the
                     An Unfinished Life    #   139

office,” Mary herself said. “He wasn’t a methodical person. Everything
that came into the office was handed to me. I took care of every-
thing. If I had any questions, I’d take them in to him at a specific
time and say, ‘Here, what do you want me to say about that?’ Noth-
ing would land on his desk. I’d pin him down on the spot, get his
decision, then do it.” Davis was paid sixty dollars a week, but wanted
more, citing her experience, background, and talent, and mindful
of the family wealth — $40 million, if Fortune magazine was to be
believed. Jack would not budge, promising only to “talk about it one
of these days.”
     The Boston office served Jack equally well. Frank Morrissey, an
attorney who was Joe’s eyes and ears, oversaw the staff, which worked
on the seventeenth floor of the federal building downtown. Morris-
sey, who spent most of his time practicing law or taking care of
errands for Joe, left the daily work in the hands of Joe Rosetti, a war
veteran attending night classes on hotel management at Northeast-
ern University. Rosetti worked hard but did not like politics. “No
matter how many good things you did for Jack’s constituents, the
only thing they remembered is what you couldn’t do for them. That
irritated me a great deal,” Rosetti recalled.
     The principal work of the Boston office fell to Grace Burke, an
unmarried fifty-year-old lady who, like Mary Davis, was the soul of
efficiency and devoted to serving Jack. “She was very dedicated,”
Rosetti said. “She would not allow anything to take place in that
office that was going to be detrimental to Jack. She kept her three-
by-five cards, her filing system, had her own personal contacts at
City Hall and the State House. She was on top of everything.”
     The effectiveness of Jack’s two offices rested partly on Joe’s com-
mitment to pay the costs of hiring more staff than any other con-
gressman. Mary Davis said that “in those days Congressmen made
twelve thousand dollars a year, plus a small expense allowance and
they didn’t have as many fringe benefits. So I was told that any ex-
penses for Jack or the office were to be sent to Paul Murphy in New
York. He had full charge of issuing checks and, of course, seldom
questioned anything. Jack wasn’t an extravagant guy.”
     Joe also put his money and influence to work crafting Jack’s
public reputation. In January 1947, the U.S. Junior Chamber of
Commerce named Jack one of the ten outstanding young men of
1946. Joe helped arrange the selection through Steve Hannagan, a
prominent New York publicist (or “press agent,” as such operators
                    140   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

were then known). Hannagan enlisted the backing of the nationally
famous singer Morton Downey and Union Pacific Railroad president
William M. Jeffers, a selection committee judge, to promote Jack’s
candidacy. Joe was “more than delighted” at Jack’s number one
ranking among the ten, with the boxer Joe Louis number seven, the
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. ninth, and
Bill Mauldin, the creator of the famous wartime “Willie and Joe” car-
toons on life in the U.S. Army, tenth.
     In subsequent months, a stream of favorable newspaper and radio
stories Joe helped generate in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and
other outlets served Jack’s image as a rising political star. “GALAHAD
IN THE HOUSE,” Paul F. Healy, a Jack booster, declared in a Massa-
chusetts Catholic paper. “In a poll of the Congressional Press Gallery
he would be picked as one of the five young congressmen most
likely to succeed,” Healy wrote in July 1950. “As a former author,
newspaperman, embassy attaché, and war hero, Kennedy takes his
legislative responsibilities extremely seriously. He is one of a small
group of World War II veterans who have done much to raise the
moral and intellectual tone of the House. Lacking the seniority that
wields so much power in Congress, these men have exerted influ-
ence by sheer intelligence and integrity.”

JOE’S HELP CAME at a price: Jack often felt compromised or too
much under his father’s control. In February 1947, when he gave an
interview to a Washington journalist who said “that it was nice to
meet Kathleen’s brother,” Jack replied, “For a long time I was Joseph P.
Kennedy’s son, then I was Kathleen’s brother, then Eunice’s brother.
Some day I hope to be able to stand on my own feet.”
    No sophisticated psychological understanding is required to see
that a largely unspoken but omnipresent concern for Jack as he
turned thirty was to separate himself from Joe and establish a more
autonomous sense of self. At a cocktail party shortly after Jack
entered the House, Joe turned to Kay Halle, a family friend, and said,
“I wish you would tell Jack that he’s going to vote the wrong way. . . .
I think Jack is making a terrible mistake.” Jack bristled: “Now, look
here, Dad, you have your political views and I have mine. I’m going
to vote exactly the way I feel I must vote on this. I’ve got great respect
for you but when it comes to voting, I’m voting my way.” Joe smiled
and said, “Well, Kay, that’s why I settled a million dollars on each
of them, so they could spit in my eye if they wished.” “I guess Dad
                     An Unfinished Life    #   141

has decided that he’s going to be the ventriloquist,” Jack told Lem,
“so I guess that leaves me the role of dummy.”
     Joe’s intrusiveness was nothing the Kennedys wished to adver-
tise; indeed, Joe and Jack may have staged the exchange in front of
Halle as a way to publicize Jack’s independence. Their intense con-
cern with public image, especially now that Jack was a congressman,
certainly makes it conceivable. His father’s reputation as an appeaser,
isolationist, and anti-Semite — or at least someone ready to accom-
modate himself to Nazi domination of Europe — seemed certain to
hurt Jack’s political standing if it were known that Joe had a big part
in what Jack did. And so the objective was to keep as quiet as pos-
sible about Joe’s behind-the-scenes political machinations.
     Jack, however, appreciated that Joe’s assertiveness and connec-
tions gave him considerable advantages. For example, his father was
instrumental in arranging Jack’s appointment to the House Educa-
tion and Labor Committee, where he could have a say in major
battles that were looming over labor unions and federal aid to
education. Jack said later that he did not remember how he came by
the selection, but it seems transparent that John McCormack, in
response to Kennedy pressure, agreed to give Jack the assignment.
(The Republican leadership bestowed the same award on Richard
Nixon, a promising California freshman they wanted to help after he
had won an upset victory over prominent liberal Democrat Jerry
Voorhis.) Jack also gained appointment to the Veterans’ Affairs Com-
mittee and membership on a special subcommittee on veterans’
housing, another issue certain to command national attention in the
coming session.
     Jack was grateful for his father’s and McCormack’s help in giving
him a part in public discussions about education, housing, and
labor. But he was also eager to demonstrate his independence from
them. Billy Sutton remembered Jack’s arrival at Washington’s Statler
Hilton on the morning of January 3, 1947: “His hair was tousled, he
was completely tanned [from a vacation in West Palm Beach]; black
cashmere coat and a grey suit over his arm.” Sutton and Ted Rear-
don reported several calls from McCormack’s office asking for Jack’s
attendance at a Democratic caucus. “We should be in a hurry now,
Jack, make it snappy. . . . You have a caucus meeting. You’ve got two
pretty good committees: Labor and Education, District of Colum-
bia.” “Well,” Jack replied, “I’d like a couple of eggs.” As Jack ate
breakfast, Billy and Ted kept pressuring him to get a move on: “Mr.
                   142   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

McCormack is quite anxious that you get up there,” Billy said. Jack
asked, “How long would you say Mr. McCormack was here?” When
Billy answered twenty-six years, Jack responded, “Well, I don’t think
Mr. McCormack would mind waiting another ten minutes.”

COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS and self-education or not, Jack’s con-
gressional work was a source of constant frustration to him. He was
a fiscal conservative who often felt out of sync with the demands
of constituents eager for federal largesse. He also had little patience
with the resistance to legislation he saw as essential to the national
well-being; it reminded him of the adage “with what little wisdom
the world is governed.” Nor did he have much, if any, regard for doc-
trinaire politicians on the left and the right — congressmen who
seemed to put wrongheaded principles above compromise and good
     He was never happy with having to slavishly support constituent
demands, but he understood that accommodating himself to this
political reality was essential if he hoped to be reelected. In the first
two months of his term, he considered proposing that the 1948
Democratic National Convention be held in Boston. “An excellent
political manoeuvre [sic],” one adviser told him. It seemed certain to
impress local businessmen, who would profit from such a develop-
ment, and would create feelings of pride among Eleventh District
voters that Jack was establishing himself as a party leader. But he
seemed less in tune with the eagerness of his many relatively poor,
working-class constituents for expanded government programs or
more New Deal “liberalism.” “In 1946 I really knew nothing about
these things,” Jack said ten years later. “I had no background particu-
larly; in my family we were interested not so much in the ideas of
politics as in the mechanics of the whole process. Then I found
myself in Congress representing the poorest district in Massachu-
setts. Naturally, the interests of my constituents led me to take the
liberal line; all the pressures converged toward that end.”
     Jack’s fiscal conservatism could be seen in his antagonism to
unbalanced budgets, which he believed a threat to the national
economy. In 1947, he openly opposed a Republican proposed tax
cut, which he attacked as not only unfair to lower-income citizens
but also a menace to economic stability. In 1950, he spoke out
against Democratic-sponsored spending plans on social programs
that could lead to a “dangerous” $6 billion deficit; he instead sug-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   143

gested a 10 percent across-the-board cut in appropriations. “I do not
see how we can go on carrying a deficit every year,” he declared on
the House floor. “Does not the gentleman think that a very impor-
tant item in the cold war is the economic stability of the country so
that we have resources in case of war?”
     Roosevelt’s New Deal had put in place Social Security, unem-
ployment insurance, and public housing, which Jack saw as being
sacrosanct among his constituents and impossible for an Eleventh
District congressman to oppose without committing political sui-
cide. But privately he had substantial concerns about some of them.
“The scarlet thread that runs throughout the world — is one of resig-
nation of major problems into the all absorbing hands of the great
Leviathan — the state,” he declared in a poorly crafted 1950 speech
at the University of Notre Dame. He warned against the “ever ex-
panding power of the Federal government” and asserted that “control
over local affairs was the essence of liberty.” His conservatism partly
found expression in a vote with the Republican majority for the
Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution (limiting presidents
to two terms). The act of revenge against Franklin Roosevelt, as it
was known, had much appeal to Jack as an indirect way to retrospec-
tively censure FDR for having fostered “socialist” measures, run for a
fourth term as a sick and dying man, and “appeased” Stalin at Yalta.
     At the same time, however, Jack had genuine compassion for the
needs of the blue-collar workers dependent on government to ease
their lives. The failure of Congress to act on some social welfare
measures he considered transparently vital to the well-being of
deserving citizens frustrated him and added to his discontent about
serving in the House. In particular, Congress’s failure in 1945–46 to
enact housing legislation impressed him as a dereliction of duty to
veterans. Federal remedies for the country’s housing shortage, which
affected thousands of returning veterans in Boston and around the
country, commanded his full support. The absence of wartime con-
struction and the rapid growth of postwar families made this a com-
pelling concern. In February 1947, he told a Boston radio audience
of his high hopes for passage of the Wagner-Ellender-Taft Bill, which
he described as “desperately needed.”
     But he was disappointed, despite outspoken demands on his part
for congressional action. He could not understand why some mem-
bers of the House would not rise above their political self-interest
and false assumptions about free enterprise for the sake of larger
                   144   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

national needs. “The only time that private enterprise alone any-
where near met the demand for houses was in 1925,” he told his
colleagues in April. By July, his frustration at House inaction boiled
over in an attack on the Republican majority, which, he said, was
willing to help big-business interests, but the veterans’ “drastic” need
of affordable dwellings would have to wait on “an investigation of
the housing shortage.” Since the facts were already known, Jack
declared on the House floor, “this gesture by the Republican party is
a fraud. . . . They have always been receptive to the best interests of
the real estate and building association, but when it came to spend-
ing money to secure homes for the people of this country, they just
were not interested.”
    Jack’s strong advocacy of federally financed housing won him
warm praise in his district. One supporter sent a letter to all the
Boston newspapers, lauding Jack’s “moral courage.” And although
the personal political benefit of supporting veterans’ housing was
not lost on Jack, the selfishness of the realty interests and the short-
sightedness of conservative VFW and American Legion leaders (who
had aligned themselves with those interests) legitimately upset
him. Quoting a Catholic newspaper, Jack called the American Legion
a “legislative drummer boy for the real estate lobby.” In response,
a Legion spokesman belittled Jack as an uninformed “embryo” con-
gressman. When the Legion then supported what Jack saw as a
fiscally irresponsible bonus bill for veterans while continuing its
opposition to the housing measure, Jack told the House that “the
leadership of the American Legion had not had a constructive
thought for the benefit of this country since 1918!” After this out-
burst, Jack, who believed it “terribly important” to his political
future to be seen as “rational” and “thoughtful,” worried that he had
gone too far. “Well, Ted,” he told Reardon when he got back to the
office, “I guess we’re gone. That finishes us down here.” But his prin-
cipled stand redounded to his benefit: public reaction was strongly
in his favor, especially from veterans, whose letters backed him ten
to one.
    It was an important lesson. A humane government looking out
for the powerless or less powerful was a necessary counter to busi-
ness interests that thought primarily about the bottom line. In 1947,
Jack did not think of himself as a New Deal liberal, but the housing
fight was a first step in that direction. Additional steps were some-
times small, as the struggles over the power of labor unions, which
                     An Unfinished Life    #   145

became the major issue before Congress during 1947, reveal. As a
representative of a working-class district, he felt duty-bound to speak
and vote for the interests of the unions, which were under sharp
attack for putting their own needs above the national good. Jack was
mindful of the long struggle for labor rights stretching back into the
nineteenth century and culminating in the victories of the 1930s
that legalized collective bargaining and secured the right to strike.
But he saw the unions as fiercely self-serving and no more ready
than corporate America to put the needs of the country above their
own interest. Communist infiltration of the unions, which allegedly
made them vulnerable to manipulation by Soviet agents putting
Moscow’s needs before those of the United States, especially troubled
him. In subcommittee hearings in 1947 on communist subversion
of the United Electrical Workers and the United Auto Workers, Jack
hammered away at witnesses suspected of communist sympathies
and, in the case of the UAW, of impeding American industrial mobi-
lization in 1941 when Soviet Russia was allied with Nazi Germany.
A motion to bring perjury charges against union leaders whom Jack
believed part of a communist conspiracy gave him standing as a
tough-minded anticommunist intent on ferreting out and prosecut-
ing subversives.
     Nevertheless, he opposed measures that would make labor again
vulnerable to management’s arbitrary control over wages and work-
ing conditions. When the House considered the excessively harsh
Hartley Bill in April 1947, which would have substantially reined in
labor’s right to strike, Jack called instead for a balanced law as a way
to head off labor-industry strife destructive to the nation. He
acknowledged that the unions “in their irresponsibility have been
guilty of excesses that have caused this country great discomfort and
concern.” But while the bill before the House had attractive features,
it would “so strangle collective bargaining with restraints and limita-
tions as to make it ineffectual.” It would “bring not peace but labor
war — a war bitter and dangerous. This bill in its present form plays
into the hands of the radicals in our unions, who preach the doc-
trine of class struggle.” A vote for the Hartley Bill, he said, would be
a vote for industrial warfare.
     Jack’s dissent put him in company with 106 other House oppo-
nents of the bill, who were swamped by 308 Republicans and con-
servative Democrats ready to risk industrial strife. When the more
moderate Taft-Hartley version emerged from a conference committee
                   146   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

in June, Jack briefly considered voting for it. But the interests of his
district, the conviction that such a vote would end his House career,
and the defects in a bill he saw as still too draconian toward unions
persuaded him to join 78 congressmen in opposing 320 supporters.
After Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, the House and Senate, with Jack
voting to sustain the president, overrode the veto.
     By the end of 1947, Jack’s voting record on supporting the
unions received a perfect score from the Congress of Industrial
Organizations (CIO): eleven out of eleven correct votes. Given Jack’s
district, the votes are not surprising, but they little reflect the am-
bivalence Jack felt on labor issues.
     Jack was no more comfortable with battles over federal aid to
education. As a Catholic representing a heavily Catholic district, he
became an immediate exponent of helping parochial schools. The
anti-Catholic bias on the issue angered and frustrated him. In 1947,
a representative of the Freemasons testifying at a subcommittee
hearing on educational aid sounded familiar clichés about Catholic
loyalty to Church over country. “Now you don’t mean the Catholics
in America are legal subjects of the Pope?” Kennedy sharply asked
the witness. “I am not a legal subject of the Pope.” When the man
cited canon law overriding all secular rules, Kennedy replied, “There
is an old saying in Boston that we get our religion from Rome and
our politics from home.”
     The willingness of the committee to hear from such a witness
speaks volumes about the outlook of many in the Congress and the
country toward helping Catholic schools with public funds. In 1947,
twenty-eight states had laws against “acting as a trustee for the dis-
bursement of federal funds to non-public schools,” and the U.S.
Senate Education and Labor Committee had reported out a bill that
“would make it impossible for the states to use any of the federal
funds for parochial schools.” A Gallup poll found that 49 percent of
Americans favored giving federal aid entirely to public schools,
while 41 percent wanted part of it to go to parochial institutions; the
division between Protestants (against) and Catholics (for) on the
issue seemed unbridgeable.
     Jack shared the view of most American Catholics that legislation
forbidding any aid to religious schools was discriminatory and un-
constitutional. In this, he was in harmony with the Supreme Court,
which had ruled in a 1947 New Jersey case, Everson v. Board of Educa-
tion, that public monies could be used to reimburse private-school
                    An Unfinished Life    #   147

students for bus transportation. By its 5–4 decision, the Court had
declared direct aid to pupils, regardless of where they attended
school, no violation of First Amendment restrictions on making
laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” Kennedy took this to
mean that noneducational services such as bus rides, health exami-
nations, and lunches could be freely provided to students in public
and private, including religious, schools. But although Jack would
consistently support this sort of federal aid, he was not without
reservations about the whole idea of federal financing for schools,
which states and counties had traditionally paid for. He was con-
cerned that “present federal educational activities are tremendously
costly” and might impose a “staggering” burden on taxpayers. To
rein in what he feared could become runaway costs, he urged that
such aid to education be given only when there was a demonstrable
need. In addition, he called for federal requirements that states
make greater efforts “through properly balanced taxation and effi-
ciency of operation” to improve their own educational systems.
    Jack was also unhappy with being identified as a Catholic con-
gressman promoting parochial interests. It is true that public stands
for equal federal treatment of public and parochial schools won him
high praise from Catholic Church and lay leaders. (One Catholic
newspaper called him “a white knight” committed to “courageous
representation of his constituency.”) But he was uncomfortable with
the perception that he was a spokesman of the Catholic Church and
a captive of his Catholic constituents. He wished to be known as a
public servant whose judgment rested not on narrow ideological or
personal prejudices, and little mattered to him more during his term
in the House than making clear that he operated primarily in the
service of national rather than more limited group interests.
    A controversy concerning Boston mayor Curley demonstrates
Kennedy’s eagerness to create some distance between himself and
the ruling Catholic clique in Boston. After his return to the mayor’s
office in 1946, Curley had been indicted for fraudulent use of the
mail to solicit war contracts for bogus companies. The following
year he was convicted and sent to the federal penitentiary in Dan-
bury, Connecticut, to serve a six-to-eighteen-month term. Seventy-
two years old, suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure,
Curley asked the court for clemency, citing a physician’s prediction
that his imprisonment would be a death sentence. When the judge
refused his plea, 172,000 of Curley’s supporters, about a quarter of
                   148   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

Boston’s population, petitioned President Truman to commute the
sentence. John McCormack asked New England congressmen to sup-
port the request.
     All the Massachusetts representatives followed McCormack’s
lead except for Jack. When McCormack approached him about sign-
ing, Kennedy asked whether the president had been consulted.
McCormack said no and, irritated with the young man’s implied
defiance, declared, “If you don’t want to sign, don’t sign it.” Having
learned from the surgeon general that Curley’s imprisonment was
not life-threatening and that he would receive proper care in the
prison hospital, Jack refused to sign. Because his district was a Cur-
ley stronghold, Jack worried that he might now be “politically dead,
finished,” as he told Ted Reardon.
     At the same time, however, Jack saw good political reasons to
resist. He was not beholden to district party regulars; his election
had been more the result of building a personal organization than
of getting help from the traditional pols. Moreover, it defined Jack as
a new kind of Boston politician, a member of a younger generation
with broader experience and a wider view of the world. It also
allowed Jack to please Honey Fitz, who despised Curley for having
cut short his political career. More important to Jack, though, was
the injustice of giving Curley something he had denied other con-
stituents: backing for an undeserved pardon. When Curley was
released after five months and returned to the mayor’s office with
declarations that he felt better than he had in years, Jack gained in
standing as a politician who thought for himself.
     Though Jack was feeling his way on domestic issues, tacking
between political expediency and moral conviction, he felt more
comfortable in dealing with major foreign policy questions. His
book, wartime experience, and newspaper articles about postwar
peacemaking gave him a surer sense of what needed to be done.
     In March 1947, after the president announced the Truman Doc-
trine proposing aid to Greece and Turkey as a deterrent to Soviet
expansion in the Near East, Jack spoke at the University of North
Carolina in support of the president’s plan. He believed it essential
to national security to prevent Europe’s domination by any single
power. To those who warned that aiding Greece and Turkey would
provoke Moscow and possibly lead to another global conflict, he
invoked the failure at Munich to stand up to Hitler as a miscalcu-
lation that had led to the Second World War. A firm policy now
                     An Unfinished Life    #   149

against Soviet imperialism would discourage Moscow from danger-
ous adventures in the future, he predicted. To those who believed
that America should rely on the United Nations to preserve the inde-
pendence of Greece and Turkey, Kennedy cautioned that it lacked
the wherewithal to meet the challenge. America’s aim was “not to
dominate by dollar imperialism the Governments of Greece and
Turkey, but rather it is to assist them to live in freedom.” The presi-
dent’s policy was “the only path by which we will reach security and
peace.” Jack was equally enthusiastic and outspoken about the Mar-
shall Plan to restore economic health and stability to Western
Europe with loans and grants of up to $17 billion.
     Of course, while Kennedy’s stand for an internationalist policy
rested on the belief that Truman was right, it also sprang from a con-
cern to separate himself from his father. Recently, Joe had publicly
complained that the United States lacked the financial means to
meet its obligations at home and send hundreds of millions of dol-
lars abroad to combat communism. His solution was to let the com-
munists take over Greece and Turkey and other nations, predicting
that these communist regimes would collapse after proving to be
unworkable. An isolationist, prosperous United States would then
become a model for both industrial and emerging nations, in which
we could comfortably invest. Joe’s shortsightedness was evident to
foreign policy realists, who warned that allowing Soviet expansion
to go unchecked would be a disaster for all the democracies, includ-
ing the United States. Joe’s bad judgment irritated Jack, who under-
stood that it was more the product of personal concerns about
family losses than reasoned analysis of the national interest. But
Joe’s misjudgments made Jack more confident about a public career:
On foreign affairs, he correctly believed that he was much more real-
istic than his “old man.”

NO ONE IN 1947 would have described Jack as ready for a leading
role in national affairs. His first term in the House was a kind of
half-life in which he divided his time between the public and the
private. He was never indifferent about the major issues besetting
the country; housing, labor unions, education, and particularly the
communist challenge to U.S. national security received close atten-
tion between 1947 and 1949. But he was a quick study, and as only
one of 435 voices in the House — and a junior one in the minority
party at that — he found himself with ample time to enjoy a social
                   150   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

life, especially since his large, able office staff took care of con-
stituent demands. An English friend who lived around the corner
from him in Georgetown remembered Jack as “a mixture of gaiety
and thought. . . . He seemed quite serious, and then suddenly, he’d
break away from reading and start to make jokes, and sing a song.
But I think he did appear to be quite a serious thinker and always
probing into things — literature, politics, etc.”
     Though having turned thirty in May 1947, his boyish good looks
and demeanor bespoke not ambition and seriousness of purpose
but casualness, ease, and enjoyment. Rumpled jackets, wrinkled shirts,
spotted ties, khaki pants, loose-fitting sweaters, and sneakers were
his clothes of choice; the expensive tailored suits he wore only out
of deference to the customs of the House — and even then, perhaps
not as often as he should have.
     A rented three-story town house at 1528 Thirty-first Street in
Georgetown, which Jack shared with Billy Sutton; his twenty-six-
year-old sister Eunice, who worked at the Justice Department for a
juvenile delinquency committee; and Margaret Ambrose, a family
cook, had the feel of a noisy, busy fraternity that reflected casual
living. Despite the presence of George Thomas, a black valet, who
struggled to keep a rein on Jack’s sloppiness, clothes were draped
over chairs and sofas, with remnants of half-eaten meals left in
unlikely places. Billy Sutton recalled how people were always “com-
ing and going, like a Hollywood hotel. The Ambassador, Rose, Lem
Billings, Torby, anybody who came to Washington. You never knew
who the hell was going to be there but you got used to it.”
     Jack’s idea of a good time was an unplanned evening with a
friend. One young woman, who resisted any romantic involvement,
recalled how “he would come by, in typical fashion, honk his horn
underneath my garage window and call out, ‘Can you go to the
movies?’ or ‘Can you come down to dinner?’ He was not much for
planning ahead. Sometimes I’d go down for dinner and he’d be hav-
ing dinner on a tray in his bedroom and I’d have my dinner on a
tray in his bedroom. He was resting, you see? The back brace and
different things would be hanging around. Then he’d find out what
was at the movies and he’d get dressed and we’d go to the movies.
And I’d pay for it because he never had any money.” When he stayed
home, he could be found sprawled in a chair, reading. Or as a
reporter said, “Kennedy never sits in a chair; he bivouacs in it.”
     Jack still took special pleasure in athletics, reportedly making a
habit of pickup football, basketball, or softball games with local teen-
                      An Unfinished Life     #   151

agers. An Associated Press reporter described Jack in full uniform at a
high school football practice. The team’s star halfback, who thought
Jack was a new recruit, gave him a workout, catching and throwing
passes, running down punts, and tackling. “How’s the Congressman
doing?” the coach asked the unsuspecting halfback. “Is that what
they call him?” he replied. “He needs a lot of work, Coach.” (Given
Jack’s health problems, was the A.P. story a puff piece?)
     For all Jack’s devotion to his social life, he had few close friends.
Not that he couldn’t have drawn other congressmen, journalists, and
Washington celebrities into close ties. His charm, intelligence, and
wit made him highly attractive to almost everyone he met. But he
felt little need for what current parlance would describe as male
bonding. His strong family connections and frenetic womanizing
gave him all the companionship he seemed to need.
     He quickly developed a reputation as quite a ladies’ man. “Jack
liked girls,” recalled fellow congressman George Smathers. Smathers,
thirty-three and the son of a prominent Miami attorney and judge,
shared a privileged background and affinity for self-indulgence that
made him one of Jack’s few good friends. “He came by it naturally.
His daddy liked girls. He was a great chaser. Jack liked girls and girls
liked him. He had just a great way with women. He was such a
warm, lovable guy himself. He was a sweet fella, a really sweet fella.”
A contemporary gossip columnist for a New York newspaper sup-
ported Smathers’s recollections. “Palm Beach’s cottage colony wants
to give the son of Joseph P. Kennedy its annual Oscar for achieve-
ment in the field of romance. The committee says that young Mister
Kennedy splashed through a sea of flaming early season divorcees to
rescue its sinking faith in the romantic powers of Florida.” Supreme
Court justice William O. Douglas remembered Jack as a “playboy,”
and New Jersey congressman Frank Thompson Jr., another of Jack’s
friends in the 1950s, said that “the girls just went crazy about him”;
he had “a smorgasbord of women” to choose from.
     Most of these women were one-night stands — airline stew-
ardesses and secretaries. “He was not a cozy, touching sort of man,”
one woman said. Another woman described Jack as “nice — consid-
erate in his own way, witty and fun. But he gave off light instead of
heat. Sex was something to have done, not to be doing. He wasn’t in it
for the cuddling.”
     He wanted no part of marriage at this time. His friend Rip Hor-
ton remembered going to his Georgetown house for dinner. “A
lovely-looking blonde from West Palm Beach joined us to go to a
                   152   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

movie. After the movie we went back to the house and I remember
Jack saying something like ‘Well, I want to shake this one. She has
ideas.’ Shortly thereafter, another girl walked in. Ted Reardon was
there, so he went home and I went to bed figuring this was the girl
for the night. The next morning a completely different girl came
wandering down for breakfast. They were a dime a dozen.”
     Several of Jack’s contemporaries and biographers have con-
cluded that he was a neurotic womanizer fulfilling some uncon-
scious need for unlimited conquests. Priscilla Johnson, an attractive
young woman who worked on political and foreign issues for Jack
in the fifties, concluded that “he was a very naughty boy.” (She
rejected invitations from him to go to his hotel suite at the Waldorf-
Astoria when they were in New York.) Kennedy family biographers
Peter Collier and David Horowitz have described his affairs as “less a
self-assertion than a search for self — an existential pinch on the
arm to prove that he was there.” This is shorthand for the view that
Jack was a narcissist whose sexual escapades combated feelings of
emptiness bred by a cold, detached mother and a self-absorbed,
largely absent father. They quote Johnson: “I was one of the few
he could really talk to. Like Freud, he wanted to know what women
really wanted, that sort of thing; but he also wanted to know the
more mundane details — what gave a woman pleasure, what women
hoped for in marriage, how they liked to be courted. During one of
these conversations I once asked him why he was doing it — why he
was acting like his father, why he was avoiding real relationships,
why he was taking a chance on getting caught in a scandal at the
same time he was trying to make his career take off. He took a while
trying to formulate an answer. Finally he shrugged and said, ‘I don’t
know really. I guess I just can’t help it.’ He had this sad expression on
his face. He looked like a little boy about to cry.”
     Johnson and others thought it was as much the chase as any-
thing that excited Jack. “The whole thing with him was pursuit,” she
said. “I think he was secretly disappointed when a woman gave in. It
meant that the low esteem in which he held women was once again
validated. It meant also that he’d have to start chasing someone
else.” Like Johnson, Doris Kearns Goodwin sees more at work here
than simply “a liking for women. So driven was the pace of his sex
life, and so discardable his conquests, that they suggest a deep diffi-
culty with intimacy.”
     A sense of his mortality may also have continued to drive Jack’s
incessant skirt-chasing. The discovery of his Addison’s disease, his
                     An Unfinished Life    #   153

adrenal insufficiency, in the fall of 1947 put a punctuation point on
the medical problems that had afflicted him since childhood.
Although the availability of DOCA made his problems treatable
by the late 1940s, no one could be certain that the disease would
not cut short Jack’s life. His English physician, who diagnosed the
Addison’s disease during Jack’s 1947 trip to Ireland, told Pamela
Churchill, “That young American friend of yours, he hasn’t got a
year to live.” Jack was not told this, but his cumulative experience
with doctors had made him skeptical about their ability to mend his
ills. Moreover, when he came home from London in September
1947, he was so ill that a priest came aboard the Queen Mary to give
him extreme unction (last rites) before he was carried off the ship on
a stretcher. In the following year, when bad weather made a plane
trip “iffy,” he told Ted Reardon, “It’s okay for someone with my life
expectancy,” but he suggested that his sister Kathleen and Reardon
go by train. “His continual, almost heroic sexual performance,”
Garry Wills said, was a “cackling at the gods of bodily disability
who plagued him.” Charles Spalding believed that Jack identified
with Lord Byron, about whom Jack read everything he could find.
Byron also had physical disabilities, saw himself dying young, and
hungered for women. Jack loved — perhaps too much — Lady Caro-
line Lamb’s description of Byron as “mad, bad, and dangerous to
     Events affecting Jack’s sister Kathleen deepened his feelings
about the tenuousness of life. Jack and Kathleen, as their letters to
each other testify, had a warm, affectionate relationship. Jack was
closer to her than to any of his other siblings. They shared an attrac-
tion to rebelliousness or at least to departing from the confining
rules of their Church and mother. Jack had supported Kick in a deci-
sion to marry Billy Hartington, outside of her faith. Billy’s death in
the war had brought her closer than ever to Jack. Each had a mutual
sense of life’s precariousness, which made them both a little cynical
and resistant to social mores. And so in the summer of 1947, during
his visit to Lismore Castle in Ireland, Jack was pleased to learn that
Kathleen had fallen deeply in love with Peter Fitzwilliam, another
wealthy English aristocrat and much-decorated war hero. A breeder
of racehorses and a man of exceptional charm, with a reputation for
womanizing despite being married to a beautiful English heiress,
Fitzwilliam reminded some people of Joe Kennedy — “older, so-
phisticated, quite the rogue male.” Jack saw Kathleen’s determina-
tion to marry Fitzwilliam — who would have to divorce his current
                   154   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

wife first — despite Rose’s warnings that she and Joe would disown
her, as a demonstration of independence and risk taking that he
admired. Before any final decision was reached, however, a tragic
accident burdened the Kennedys with a far greater trauma. In May
1948, while on an ill-advised flight in stormy weather to the south
of France, Kathleen and Fitzwilliam were killed when their private
plane crashed into the side of a mountain in the Rhône Valley.
      Jack found it impossible to make sense of Kathleen’s death.
When it was confirmed by a phone call from Ted Reardon, Jack was
at home listening to a recording of Ella Logan singing the lead song
from Finian’s Rainbow, “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” She has a
sweet voice, Jack said to Billy Sutton. Then he turned away and
began to cry. “How can there possibly be any purpose in her death?”
Jack repeatedly asked Lem Billings. He later told campaign biogra-
pher James MacGregor Burns, “The thing about Kathleen and Joe
was their tremendous vitality. Everything was moving in their direc-
tion — that’s what made it so unfortunate. If something happens to
you or somebody in your family who is miserable anyway, whose
health is bad, or who has a chronic disease or something, that’s one
thing. But, for someone who is living at their peak, then to get cut
off — that’s the shock.”
      Kathleen’s death depressed Jack and made him more conscious
than ever of his own mortality. He told the columnist Joseph Alsop
that he did not expect to live more than another ten years, or
beyond the age of forty-five, “but there was no use thinking about
it . . . and he was going to do the best he could and enjoy himself as
much as he could in the time that was given him.” He queried Ted
Reardon and George Smathers about the best way to die: in war,
freezing, drowning, getting shot, poisoning? (War and poisoning
were his choices.) “The point is,” he said to Smathers, “that you’ve
got to live every day like it’s your last day on earth. That’s what
I’m doing.” Chuck Spalding remembered that “he always heard the
footsteps. . . . Death was there. It had taken Joe and Kick and it was
waiting for him. So, whenever he was in a situation, he tried to burn
bright; he tried to wring as much out of things as he could. After a
while he didn’t have to try. He had something nobody else did. It
was just a heightened sense of being; there’s no other way to
describe it.”
      Spalding’s recollections are not a sentimental exaggeration about
Kennedy or the influences that played on him. Kathleen’s death
                     An Unfinished Life    #   155

seemed to heighten not only his determination to live life to the
fullest but also his ambition for a notable public career. It is clear
that the initial shock of Kick’s death greatly distracted him. Billings
said that “he was in terrible pain. . . . He couldn’t get through the
days without thinking of Kathleen at the most inappropriate times.
He’d be sitting at a congressional hearing and he’d find his mind
drifting uncontrollably back to all the things he and Kathleen had
done together and all the friends they had in common.” He had
trouble sleeping through the night, repeatedly awakened by images
of Kathleen and him sitting and talking together.

AFTER KATHLEEN’S DEATH, stoicism about accepting the uncontrol-
lable joined a healthy determination to go forward and build a suc-
cessful political career. During his first year and a half in Congress,
Jack had already considered running for a statewide office. He
wanted to get to the Senate, but if he won the nomination in 1948,
it would mean challenging incumbent Republican Leverett Salton-
stall. Since early polls showed New York Republican governor Thomas
Dewey taking the presidency from Truman that year, and since
Saltonstall, a popular moderate, would be difficult to beat, Jack
backed away from challenging him. He focused, instead, on the pos-
sibility of running for governor. As a prelude, he began spending
three or four days a week in Massachusetts speaking before civic
groups — less to make clear where he stood on public questions
than to get himself known by as many attentive citizens as possible.
He largely stuck to safe issues such as the communist danger, at
home and abroad, veterans’ benefits, a balanced approach to labor
unions, and the need to increase New England’s economic competi-
     The most striking feature of his travels around the state is the
energy it required and how forcefully it demonstrates his determina-
tion to advance to higher political office. The trips from Washington
to Boston by plane and back to D.C. by train in an uncomfortable
sleeping-car berth that left him bleary-eyed the next day were reason
enough not to take on the job. Visits to the 39 cities and 312 towns
in Massachusetts by car were an additional argument against launch-
ing a statewide campaign he might not win. He followed a grueling
schedule, often attending twelve or more events a day, speaking at
Communion breakfasts, church socials, Elks clubs, fraternal groups,
Holy Name Societies, PTAs, VFW or American Legion chapters, vol-
                   156   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

unteer fire departments, and women’s organizations. To reach as
many towns as possible, Jack, his driver (an ex-prizefighter), and two
or three of his supporters usually began the day at dawn and ended
at midnight, eating cheeseburgers and drinking milkshakes along
the way. John Galvin, who accompanied Kennedy on many of these
weekends, remembered that with no state expressways and few nice
motels, “we usually ended up sleeping in a crummy small-town
hotel with a single electric lightbulb hanging from the ceiling over
the bed and a questionable bathtub down at the far end of the hall.”
     Jack suffered almost constant lower back pain and spasms in
spite of his 1944 surgery. And no wonder: X rays of his back showed
that by 1950, the fourth lumbar vertebra had narrowed from 1.5 cm
to 1.1 cm, indicating further collapse in the bones supporting his
spinal column. By March 1951, there would be clear compression
fractures in his lower spine. At his age, this may have been another
indication of the price paid for his steroid therapy. At the end of
each day on the road, Jack would climb into the backseat of the car,
where, as his friend and expert on state politics Dave Powers re-
called, “he would lean back . . . and close his eyes in pain.” At the
hotel, he would use crutches to help himself up stairs and then soak
in a hot bath for an hour before going to bed. “The pain,” Powers
added, “often made him tense and irritable with his fellow travelers.”
     Like a general fighting a war, Powers had tacked a state map to
the wall of Jack’s Boston apartment on Bowdoin Street and began
using colored pins to show where they had been. Jack pressed Pow-
ers to fill the gaps with dates in the neglected cities and towns.
“When we’ve got this map completely covered with pins,” Jack
would say, “that’s when I’ll announce that I’m going to run for
statewide office.”
     Jack was away from Washington so much that veteran Missis-
sippi congressman John Rankin told him and Smathers, who was
spending a lot of time in Florida preparing for a 1950 Senate cam-
paign, “You young boys go home too much. . . . I’ve got my people
convinced that the Congress of the United States can’t run without
me. I don’t go home during the Session because I don’t want them
to find out any different. . . . You fellows are home every week —
you’re never around here. . . . And your people are finally going to
realize the Congress can run just as good without you as with you.
And then you’re in trouble.”
     By the fall of 1947, Massachusetts’ newspapers had begun specu-
lating that Jack was a possible candidate for the Senate or governor-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   157

ship. And by 1948, Henry Wallace’s Progressive party backers in the
state declared themselves ready to support him for governor. Since
he seemed to be a strong labor advocate and his anticommunism
would have little impact on foreign policy as governor, he was more
acceptable to Progressives than his rivals for the nomination, tradi-
tional Democrats former governor Maurice Tobin and Paul Dever,
the front-runner. Progressives also considered Kennedy much prefer-
able to incumbent Republican governor Robert F. Bradford.
     But a private Roper poll in June 1948 persuaded Jack not to run.
The survey showed Jack losing to Bradford, 43.3 to 39.8 percent.
Neither this small margin nor a straw poll of Democrats that put
Jack and Tobin in a dead heat and Jack ahead of Dever by almost
two to one was enough to convince him otherwise. More important
was evidence that only five months before the election, he had made
little impression on Massachusetts voters as a potential governor and
officeholder: 85 percent of the Roper survey said they knew too little
about Kennedy to predict whether he would be a good governor,
while 64 percent said they did not have enough information to cite
anything about him or his policies that they particularly liked. So it
was time to wait. In the meantime, reelection to the House was
assured. With no challenger in the primary or the general election,
Jack received 94,764 votes, over 25,000 more than in his first race.
     Jack had no illusions about winning higher office: As he knew
from the history of Massachusetts politics, money and a winning
strategy were essential for success. His father’s wealth relieved him of
fund-raising concerns. And so in January 1949, he began focusing
on the issues that he believed could carry him to the State House or
the Senate in 1952.
     If Jack needed additional inducement to bear the burdens of a
statewide campaign, he found it in the public response in 1950 to a
family tragedy suffered by Mayor James Curley and the passing of
his grandfather, Honey Fitz. Early in the year, the deaths of two of
Curley’s four surviving children — five others and his wife had
already passed away — stunned Boston. Curley’s forty-one-year-old
daughter Mary died unexpectedly from a cerebral hemorrhage and
her thirty-six-year-old brother succumbed the same day in the same
way. Eight months later Honey Fitz, at age eighty-seven, died of old
age. Curley’s tragedy had brought over 50,000 people from around
the state to his home to pay their respects. Likewise, more than
3,500 people attended the church service to mark Honey Fitz’s pass-
ing. To Jack, it was more than a demonstration of affection for two
                   158   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

legendary public figures; “it made him realize” more fully than be-
fore, Billings said, “the extraordinary impact a politician can have on
the emotions of ordinary people” — indeed, on the substance of
their lives. This was something good and powerful, and it stirred not
only Jack’s heart but his ego.
     In laying the groundwork for a 1952 campaign, Jack could have
chosen to emphasize domestic matters such as education, veterans’
housing, unemployment, union rights, rent control, health care and
insurance, reduced government spending, and lower taxes — all of
which he addressed repeatedly during his first two House terms. But
he did not see these as stirring the kind of public passion that he
hoped to summon in a statewide race. The key, he believed, to com-
manding broad and favorable attention was a focus on foreign pol-
icy, anticommunism in particular. As he would say in a speech in
1951, “Foreign policy today, irrespective of what we might wish, in
its impact on our daily lives, overshadows everything else. Expendi-
tures, taxation, domestic prosperity, the extent of social services —
all hinge on the basic issue of war or peace.”

IN CONSISTENTLY SEIZING upon foreign affairs and anticommu-
nism as his campaign themes, Jack identified himself not with one
party or the other but with the national interest. When it suited him,
he could be highly partisan. During the 1948 presidential campaign,
for example, he aggressively attacked the Grand Old Party for its sup-
port of special interests and “perpetual, unending war on all fronts
against the rights and aspirations of American workers.” He called
the Republicans “vicious” and complained that “they follow the
Hitler line — no matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and
the masses will regard it as truth.” Once he launched his own cam-
paign in 1949, however, he aimed to win voter backing by espousing
“Americanism.” (Jack may have remembered the observation of
Pennsylvania Republican boss Boise Penrose in 1920 when asked for
the meaning of “Americanism,” which Warren G. Harding was advo-
cating in the presidential race. “Damned if I know,” Penrose disarm-
ingly replied. “But you can be sure it will get a lot of votes.”)
     “Americanism” for Jack mostly meant anticommunism, and his
political timing was astute. In January 1949, American anxiety over
the communist threat was reaching fever pitch. Between 1946 and
1949, warnings of communist infiltration of U.S. government agen-
cies — especially the State Department — had filled the air. FBI
                     An Unfinished Life    #   159

director J. Edgar Hoover had said that no less than 100,000 commu-
nists were at work in America trying to overthrow the government.
Cardinal Spellman of New York warned that America was in immi-
nent danger of a communist takeover. Under what Secretary of State
Dean Acheson later described as “the incendiary influence” of the
House Un-American Activities Committee, the Truman administra-
tion felt compelled to set up the Federal Employees Loyalty and
Security Program. In January 1949, 72 percent of Americans did not
believe that Russia genuinely wanted peace. A like number later in
the year said that Moscow wanted to rule the world.
     Events abroad gave resonance to these concerns. In 1948, a suc-
cessful communist coup in Czechoslovakia had solidified Soviet
control of Eastern Europe; Western Europe, despite the Marshall
Plan, was still far from a postwar economic recovery and seemed
vulnerable to communist political subversion and military attack;
and the civil war in China between the nationalists and communists
had just turned decisively in Mao’s favor with the planned retreat of
Chiang’s forces to Formosa.
     Jack began using foreign policy issues for a statewide campaign
as early as the fall of 1947. In an endorsement of a $227 million aid
request to defend Italy from “the onslaught of the communist
minority,” Jack depicted the country “as the initial battleground in
the communist drive to capture western Europe.” Jack’s strongly
worded appeal reflected his genuine concern about the Soviet threat
to Europe and America, but he also knew that it was excellent poli-
tics in a state with a significant Italian voting bloc. Nor did he over-
look the political advantage (from Massachusetts’ Jewish and Polish
minorities) of urging an end to a Palestine arms embargo, which
deprived Jews of “the opportunity to defend themselves and carve
out their partition,” and the admission to the United States of eigh-
teen thousand displaced Polish soldiers, which was a small atone-
ment for “the betrayal of their native country” by FDR at the Yalta
Conference. Jack made no mention of Roosevelt’s limited options in
helping Poland as the war was ending or of his father’s readiness to
sacrifice Poland to Hitler’s ambitions five years before.
     The common thread running through these pronouncements
was the defense of the West against a communist advance. At times,
however, overreaction to communist dangers and political cynicism
skewed Jack’s judgment on international affairs. Chiang’s defeat in
1949, for example, provoked Kennedy into the least-astute foreign
                   160   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

policy pronouncement of his young political career. “The failure of
our foreign policy in the Far East,” he announced on the House floor
and then in a speech in Salem, Massachusetts, “rests squarely with
the White House and the Department of State.” America’s refusal
to provide military aid unless there was a coalition government
in China had crippled Chiang’s nationalists. “So concerned were
our diplomats and their advisers, the [Owen] Lattimores and the
[John K.] Fairbanks, with the imperfections of the democratic system
in China after twenty years of war, and the tales of corruption in
high places, that they lost sight of our tremendous stake in a non-
communist China. . . . What our young men had saved [in World
War II], our diplomats and our president have frittered away.” His
conviction that American actions were more responsible for events
in China than what the Chinese themselves did helped agitate unre-
alistic judgments on the power of the United States to shape politi-
cal developments everywhere in the world. Kennedy’s comments
also encouraged right-wing complaints that the Truman administra-
tion had “lost” China and helped destroy the credibility of the State
Department’s experts on Asia.
     Coming so soon after Truman had won a stunning upset victory
in the 1948 campaign, which made him a dominant political force,
Jack’s attack on the White House indicates how strongly he felt
about the communist danger. Yet he also knew that it was very good
politics: What better way to command the attention of Massachu-
setts voters than to take issue with the head of his own party on a
matter most people in the state saw as he did? In 1949, anticommu-
nism was a surefire issue for any aspiring national politician: 83 per-
cent of Americans favored registration of communists with the
Justice Department; 87 percent thought it wise to remove commu-
nists from jobs in defense industries; and 80 percent supported the
signing of loyalty oaths by union leaders.
     Playing this card meant sometimes playing rough, but Jack was
getting more used to that, too. He admired George Smathers’s 1950
Senate nomination campaign against incumbent Democrat Claude
Pepper, in which Smathers successfully exploited Pepper’s reputation
as a doctrinaire New Dealer and forceful advocate of the welfare
state, which opened him to attacks as a Soviet sympathizer and
“Stalin’s mouthpiece in the Senate,” or “Red” Pepper, as unscrupu-
lous opponents called him. Whimsically taking advantage of the cli-
mate of suspicion and the extraordinary ignorance of his audience,
                     An Unfinished Life    #   161

Smathers shamelessly described Pepper in a speech as an “extrovert,”
who practiced “nepotism” with his sister-in-law and “celibacy”
before his marriage, and had a sister who was a Greenwich Village
     Nevertheless, in 1949–50, despite his hyperbole about China
and uncritical support of Smathers, Jack was relatively restrained in
his attacks on Truman’s national security and foreign policies. He
did focus on “the lack of adequate national planning for civil
defense in case of a national emergency,” complaining that only one
man was working full-time on the matter of “wartime civil disaster
relief. . . . It is amazing to learn, particularly in view of the Presi-
dent’s recent disclosure of Russia’s Atomic Bomb, that at this late
date no further progress has been made in setting up an adequate
and organized system of Civil Defense.” Jack’s office informed forty-
five newspaper editors in Massachusetts about a letter he had sent to
Truman regarding the problem. Kennedy worried that in case of an
atomic attack no one would have a clear idea of how to respond.
By July, with the United States now fighting in Korea and the admin-
istration giving little heed to Jack’s warnings, he decried the “inex-
cusable delay” in the failure to set up an adequate program to cope
with a surprise attack. When ten thousand copies of a government
manual on how to protect oneself from atomic radiation “sold like
hot cakes,” Jack saw it as a kind of vindication.
     But nothing provoked Jack’s criticism of the administration
more than initial U.S. defeats in Korea. He said that the reverses in
the fighting in the summer of 1950 forcefully demonstrated “the
inadequate state of our defense preparations. Our military arms and
our military manpower have been proven by the Korean incident to
have been dangerously below par.” He had already taken the admin-
istration to task on preparedness in February, when he had inserted
a column by Joseph and Stewart Alsop in the Congressional Record
attacking Defense Secretary Louis A. Johnson for failing to tell the
public about U.S. military weakness. Jack now also attacked Truman
for failing to prepare the country to defend its interests in Europe as
well as in Asia. He believed that the United States had insufficient
forces to fight in Korea and hold the line in Western Europe, where
he said the Soviets had eighty divisions to the new North Atlantic
Treaty Organization’s twelve.
     Jack’s criticism reflected popular feeling: Whereas a majority of
Americans consistently approved of Truman’s leadership in 1949
                   162   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

and initially rallied around him after the outbreak of the Korean War
in June 1950, only 37 to 43 percent thought he was doing a good
job after that. By November 1950, Americans were more critical than
approving of the administration’s Korean policy. After driving North
Korean forces back above the Thirty-eighth Parallel in September
and then crossing into North Korea in hopes of unifying the penin-
sula under a pro-Western government in Seoul, the United States
found itself in a wider war with China, which had entered the fight-
ing in November. A Chinese offensive that pushed U.S. forces back
below the Thirty-eighth Parallel — arousing fears of an extended,
costly war — convinced 71 percent of Americans that the adminis-
tration’s management of the conflict was only fair or poor.
     In November 1950, in a seminar at the Harvard Graduate School
of Public Administration, Jack spoke candidly about many of the key
issues and personalities of the times. In contrast with Truman, who
had vetoed the McCarran Act, which required the registration of
communists and communist-front organizations and provided for
their internment during a national emergency, Jack said that he had
voted for it and complained that not enough was being done to
combat communists in the U.S. government. He also said that he
had little regard for the foreign policy leadership of the president or
Secretary of State Dean Acheson.
     As for Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who
early in 1950 had begun stirring sharp debate with unproved accu-
sations about widespread subversion among government officials
under FDR and Truman, Jack had little quarrel with him, saying,
“He may have something.” It was not simply that his father, sister
Eunice, and he were personally acquainted with McCarthy; Jack val-
ued his anticommunism, even if it were overdrawn, as well as his
“energy, intelligence, and political skill in abundant qualities.” At a
Harvard Spee Club dinner in February 1952, when a speaker praised
the university for never having produced an Alger Hiss, a former
State Department official under suspicion of spying for Moscow, or a
Joe McCarthy, Jack uncharacteristically made a public scene, angrily
saying, “How dare you couple the name of a great American patriot
with that of a traitor!” Jack was just as sympathetic to Richard
Nixon, with whom he had established a measure of personal rap-
port during their service in the House. He openly declared himself
pleased that Nixon, a tough anticommunist, had beaten liberal
Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in a 1950 California Senate race,
                     An Unfinished Life    #   163

and he had no complaints about Nixon’s depiction of Douglas as a
“fellow traveler” or the “Pink Lady.”
     Like so many others in the country, Jack was partly blind to the
political misjudgments and moral failings generated by the anticom-
munism of the time. Fearful that America was losing the Cold War,
supposedly because of disloyal U.S. officials, and that McCarthy was
correct in trying to root out government subversives, millions of
Americans uncritically accepted unproved allegations that abused
the civil liberties of loyal citizens. Unlike Truman, who in March
1950 called McCarthy “a ballyhoo artist” making “wild charges,”
Jack was all too ready to take McCarthy’s accusations about govern-
ment spies at face value. Overreacting to the events of 1949–50, Jack
saw the dangers of communist success compelling the sacrifice of
some traditional freedoms. He was ready to place limits on dissent
as a way to give it freer rein at some future time. Less than two years
later and forever thereafter, Jack tried to deny the generally accurate
portrayal in a New Republic article of what he had said at the Harvard
     Unlike Joe McCarthy, Kennedy never engaged in systematic red-
baiting or the repeated use of innuendo to destroy anyone’s reputa-
tion. And by the end of 1951, he publicly declared that the issue of
communists in the executive branch was no longer of importance
and that accusations of communists in the Foreign Service were
“irrational.” Yet there is no question that he had taken advantage of
the anticommunist mood to advance his political standing in Mas-
sachusetts by voicing policy differences with Truman and his ad-
ministration, though, unlike McCarthy, Kennedy’s opposition rested
principally on matters of substantive concern that had some merit.
     The issue of how to defend Western Europe with limited re-
sources in the midst of the Korean fighting is a case in point. Jack
believed that Europe was America’s first and most important line of
defense against a Soviet advance in the Cold War. To better inform
himself about European defense needs, he spent five weeks in Janu-
ary and February 1951 traveling from England to Yugoslavia. On his
return, Jack gave a nationwide radio talk carried by 540 stations
of the Mutual Broadcasting Company on “Issues in the Defense of
Western Europe.” Sixteen days later he testified before the Senate
Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. His balanced,
sensible analysis of European dangers was in striking contrast to
some of his earlier overdrawn rhetoric about foreign affairs and won
                   164   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

bipartisan approval. His conversations with U.S. representatives and
high government officials in England, France, Italy, West Germany,
Yugoslavia, and Spain, he said, made clear that the Soviets would
not invade Western Europe in the coming year. Since “the Russians
had not attacked before, why should they now when the bomb is
still as much a deterrent as it was before?” An additional restraint
on Soviet aggression was the “tremendous” problem Moscow would
face of feeding Western Europe following any conquest. More
important, Jack wondered why they would “take the risk of starting a
war, when the best that they could get would be a stalemate, during
which they would be subjected to atomic bombing? Why should
they throw everything into the game, why should they take risks that
they don’t have to — especially when things are going well in the Far
East? In addition, Stalin is an old man, and old men are tradition-
ally cautious.”
     Because “a series of chain events as in the first war” might pro-
duce a conflict anyway, Kennedy continued to urge a military buildup.
He was against strict reliance on U.S. forces, however, instead
encouraging a ratio system in which the Europeans would match
each American division with six of their own, warning that without
such a commitment from its allies, the United States would find it-
self burdened with a disproportionate responsibility for Europe’s de-
fense. Because the White House opposed a ratio system and seemed
unlikely to enforce it, Jack also urged that the Congress monitor any
commitments the Europeans made to the buildup. This was not a
backhanded proposal for pulling out of Europe; rather, he wanted to
protect the American economy from excessive burdens by getting the
Europeans to do their share.
     In his testimony, Jack had the added satisfaction of directly sepa-
rating himself from his father’s continuing advocacy of isolationism.
Georgia senator Walter George asked him to comment on a speech
Joe gave in December 1950 urging withdrawal from Europe. Joe’s
speech was another demonstration of his inability to translate his
realistic prognostications on the domestic economy into wise assess-
ments of international affairs. “The truth,” Joe said, “is that our only
real hope is to keep Russia, if she chooses to march, on the other
side of the Atlantic. It may be that Europe for a decade or a genera-
tion or more will turn communistic.” In contrast, Jack testified that
losing the “productive facilities” of Western Europe would make
matters much more difficult for the United States in the Cold War
                     An Unfinished Life    #   165

and thought “we should do our utmost within reason to save it.”
Jack’s differences with his father on foreign affairs were no bar to the
great family enterprise of advancing Jack’s political career: Joe
promptly paid for the printing and distribution of ten thousand
copies of Jack’s testimony.
     Jack’s conviction about the importance of foreign affairs to the
nation’s future and, more narrowly, to his 1952 political campaign
moved him to focus his attention on more than Western Europe. In
April 1951, he spoke to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation meet-
ing in Boston about Middle Eastern and Asian problems susceptible
to Soviet exploitation. In Morocco, Iran, Egypt, Indochina, Malaya,
Burma, India, and Pakistan, Jack said, the “nationalistic passions . . .
directed primarily against the Colonial policies of the West” were of
great consequence to America. To combat Soviet efforts to take con-
trol in these countries, Kennedy wanted the United States to develop
nonmilitary techniques of resistance that would not create suspi-
cions of neo-imperialism or add to the country’s financial burden.
The problem, as Jack saw it, was not simply to be anticommunist
but to stand for something that these emerging nations would find
appealing. Communism was spreading because the democracies had
failed, especially in Asia, to explain themselves effectively to the
masses or to make the potential ameliorating effects of democracy
on their lives apparent. Too many subjects of Western colonial rule
remembered the cruelty of their masters to accept their systems of
self-government as transparently superior to communism.
     To learn more, Jack — accompanied by his brother Robert and
sister Pat — made a seven-week, 25,000-mile trip that fall to Israel,
Iran, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Thailand, French Indochina, Korea,
and Japan. “I was anxious to get some first-hand knowledge of the
effectiveness or ineffectiveness of our policies in the Middle East and
in the Far East,” he told a nationwide radio audience on his return.
He had wanted to learn “how those peoples regarded us and our
policies, and what you and I might do in our respective capacities to
further the cause of peace.” Along the way he met with U.S. and for-
eign military chiefs as well as prime ministers, ambassadors, minis-
ters, consuls, businessmen, and ordinary citizens willing to speak
spontaneously about current and future international relations.
     The journey became a chance for Jack not only to educate him-
self about regions, countries, and peoples with which he had small
acquaintance but also to get to know his twenty-six-year-old younger
                   166   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

brother, Robert, better. The eight-year gap in their ages had made
them almost distant relatives, separated by the different rhythms of
their lives. Robert, who had briefly worked in Jack’s 1946 campaign
after returning from navy service, had graduated from Harvard in
1948, where he had majored in “football” and earned poor grades.
He was reluctantly accepted by the University of Virginia’s law
school, where his diligence carried him through to an L.L.B. and a
respectable grade point average that placed him in the upper half of
his class.
     Unlike Jack, who found much attraction in iconoclasm, Robert
was a conformist who courted Rose and Joe by being as devout as
his mother and a faithful reflector of his father’s views and wishes.
Bobby, as his siblings and friends called him, was the first of the
Kennedy children to have a profession, get married, and have chil-
dren. In 1950, at the age of twenty-five, he wed Ethel Skakel, the
next-to-youngest of seven children of a wealthy Chicago Catholic
family that shared the Kennedys’ conservative values.
     Only after prodding from Joe had Jack taken Bobby with him on
his Middle Eastern and Asian trip. Jack feared that his often moody,
taciturn, brusque, and combative brother would be “a pain in the
ass.” But Bobby’s lighter, less apparent side as a relentless teaser
endeared him to Jack. There was more at work than shared humor.
Because both brothers, as historian Ronald Steel believes, “shunned
open displays of emotion as a sign of weakness, the preferred mode
of discourse was kidding. This permitted familiarity without the
danger of vulnerability or sentiment.” As important, Bobby’s deter-
mined efforts to make objective sense of what they were finding and
his unblinking realism deepened Jack’s respect for him. Bobby’s
emphasis on “the importance of associating ourselves with the
people rather than just the governments, which might be transi-
tional, transitory; the mistake of the [French] war in Indochina; . . .
[and] the failure of the United States to back the people” echoed
Jack’s thinking. He began to see Bobby as an asset in future political
contests and challenges.
     Kennedy believed it imperative for the United States to align
itself with the emerging nations. But he acknowledged this as no
easy task. Because of its wartime and post-1945 policies, America
was “definitely classed with the imperialist powers of Western
Europe.” “We are more and more becoming colonialists in the
minds of the people,” he noted in a trip diary. “Because everyone
                      An Unfinished Life    #   167

believes that we control the U.N. — because our wealth is suppos-
edly inexhaustible, we will be damned if we don’t do what they [the
emerging nations] want done.” America needed to throw off the
image of a great Western power filling the vacuum left by British and
French decline and to demonstrate that its enemy was not just com-
munism but “poverty and want,” “sickness and disease,” “injustice
and inequality,” which were the daily fare of millions of Arabs and
Asians. “It is tragic to report,” he said in his radio address, “that not
only have we made no new friends, but we have lost old ones.” U.S.
military strength was only part of the equation. “If one thing was
bored into me as a result of my experience in the Middle as well as
the Far East,” he said, “it is that Communism cannot be met effec-
tively by merely the force of arms. The central core of our Middle
Eastern policy,” Jack asserted, “is [or should be] not the export of
arms or the show of armed might but the export of ideas, of tech-
niques, and the rebirth of our traditional sympathy for and under-
standing of the desires of men to be free.”
     The U.S. dilemma was most pronounced in Indochina, where
America had “allied ourselves to the desperate effort of a French
regime to hang on to the remnants of empire. . . . To check the
southern drive of Communism makes sense,” Jack also said prophet-
ically, “but not only through reliance on the force of arms. The task
is rather to build strong native non-Communist sentiment within
these areas and rely on that as a spearhead of defense rather than
upon the [French] legions. . . . And to do this apart from and in defi-
ance of innately nationalistic aims spells foredoomed failure.”
     For Jack and Bobby the trip evoked a mutual affinity for noblesse
oblige — the family’s moral imperative, bound up with Rosemary’s
disability, to emphasize the obligations of the advantaged to the dis-
advantaged, the need of the rich and powerful few to help the less
fortunate many. Joe had always had an evangelical streak that made
him such an outspoken isolationist, and he had clearly instilled
in his children an affinity for crusading fervor. Now his sons had
together found a cause worth fighting for.
     Yet Jack’s enthusiasm was largely self-generated; back home and
among Americans abroad, his journey of discovery evoked more in-
difference and hostility than encouragement or praise. In the Middle
East, he crossed paths with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., who told an
Arab leader urging U.S. sympathy for nationalistic revolutions that
the really important issue was the U.S.-Soviet struggle. FDR Jr. had
                   168   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

“simply, completely missed the whole point of the nationalist revo-
lution that is sweeping Asia,” Bobby wrote his father. Bobby person-
ally did not think there was a chance of changing anything unless
the whole State Department crowd was swept aside.
     In India, where they dined with Nehru, the prime minister
seemed bored, looking at the ceiling and speaking only occasionally
to Pat Kennedy, Bobby and Jack’s attractive twenty-seven-year-old
sister. When Jack asked Nehru about Vietnam, he condescendingly
dismissed the French war as an example of doomed colonialism
with U.S. aid being poured down a “bottomless hole.” Like a school-
master lecturing mediocre students, Nehru explained that commu-
nism had offered “something to die for” and the West proposed
nothing but the status quo. French officials in Saigon, who were
more in need of Nehru’s lecture than Jack and Bobby, complained
to the State Department that the Kennedys were trying to under-
mine their policy. Nor did most U.S. diplomats see Jack’s criticism as
     Jack’s call for a change in perspective and policy did not alter his
father’s thinking, either. He followed Jack’s radio address with one of
his own, urging not an effort to align ourselves with the struggling
masses but to shun additional alliances that could further under-
mine our autonomy in dealing with international affairs. “Perhaps
our next effort will be to ally to ourselves the Eskimos of the North
Pole and the Penguins of the Antarctic,” he sarcastically announced.

IN SEPTEMBER 1951, Jack asked his sister Pat, who was working in
television in New York, to arrange a weekly “public service type”
telecast of ten or fifteen minutes, “with me interviewing important
people down in Washington about their jobs, etc., and about prob-
lems of the day.” The idea was to get it shown throughout Massa-
     More important than immediate efforts to expand Jack’s visibil-
ity in the state was the decision on whether to run for governor
or senator. Jack much preferred to be a senator than be the chief
executive of Massachusetts. He thought of the latter as a job “hand-
ing out sewer contracts.” The office had limited powers: The mayor
of Boston had greater control over patronage than the governor, and
any Democrat in the State House would likely have to deal with a
Republican-controlled legislature, with all that meant for making
much of a record as chief executive. To get anything done, Jack be-
                      An Unfinished Life    #   169

lieved he would have “to be on the take,” as he put it, or bypass the
legislature and the politicians in the State House by going to the
people, and since he would have entered office with “no standing,”
it seemed unlikely that he would accomplish much.
     Jack’s interest in foreign affairs also made the Senate more attrac-
tive, as did his father’s unqualified preference for a Senate bid. Joe
predicted that Jack “would murder [incumbent Henry Cabot]
Lodge,” but because sophisticated political observers told Joe that
the chances against Lodge were only fifty-fifty and Joe did not want
anyone to be overconfident, he also declared that “the campaign
against Lodge would be the toughest fight he could think of, but
there was no question that Lodge could be beaten, and if that
should come to pass Jack would be nominated and elected President
of the United States.” Frank Morrissey, who ran Jack’s Boston office,
remembered Joe, “in that clear and commanding voice of his,” say-
ing to Jack, “ ‘I will work out the plans to elect you President. It will
not be any more difficult for you to be elected President than it will
be to win the Lodge fight.’ ” Chuck Spalding recalled that Jack saw
the Senate race as a bigger challenge than the governor’s chair, but
that “if he was going to get anywhere . . . he’d have to be able to beat
somebody like Lodge. . . . So I think he made the decision, ‘I’ve been
long enough in the House, it’s time for me to move ahead. If I’m
going to do it I’ve got to take this much of a chance.’ ” Jack talked to
Justice William O. Douglas, who encouraged him to run for the Sen-
ate seat. In December 1951, during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the
Press, Jack said he was “definitely interested in going to the Senate”
and was considering running next year.
     Only incumbent governor Paul Dever stood in the way. After
winning the State House twice in 1948 and 1950, Dever was inter-
ested in running for the Senate. But he was uncertain of beating
Lodge, whose famous name and three terms in the Upper House
made him something of a Massachusetts icon. For his part, Jack saw
a fight with Dever as hurting his chances of defeating Lodge. Never-
theless, Jack was confident that Dever’s own assessments would dis-
courage him from taking on Lodge, and thus Kennedy. Jack decided
to wait on an announcement until Dever made up his mind. He also
approached Dever with an offer. Jack told him early in 1952, “If you
want to run for the United States Senate, I’ll run for governor. If you
want to run for governor, then I’ll run for the United States Senate.
Will you please make up your mind and let me know?” This may
                   170   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

have been more than a bit of a ploy. William O. Douglas remem-
bered that when he and Kennedy spoke, Jack only casually men-
tioned the governorship. “By the time that he was talking to me, I
think he had discarded that [a run for governor] essentially and had
decided to run for the Senate.” In any case, Dever was so slow in
deciding that Jack prepared a statement announcing his Senate can-
didacy. Fortunately, before he acted on it, Dever called to say that he
would seek reelection as governor. Jack was relieved and happy,
telling an aide, “We got the race we wanted.”
     According to daughter Eunice, Joe “had thought and questioned
and planned for two years,” and he now made Jack’s election his
full-time concern. One campaign insider said that Joe, as in 1946,
“was the distinct boss in every way. He dominated everything.” He
took a comfortable apartment at 84 Beacon Street, near Jack’s place
on Bowdoin Street, where he supervised campaign expenditures,
publicity, the preparation of speeches, and policy statements. “The
Ambassador worked around the clock,” a speechwriter Joe brought
up from New York said. “He was always consulting people, getting
reports, looking into problems. Should Jack go on T V with this
issue? What kind of an ad should he run on something else? He’d
call in experts, get opinions, have ideas worked up.”
     To make Lodge seem overconfident, Joe leaked the story to the
press that Lodge had sent him word not to waste his money. In a
race against Jack, he expected to win by 300,000 votes. Lodge later
denied that he ever predicted an easy victory — to Joe or anyone
else. On the contrary, he saw the contest as “much harder” than his
three previous races. “All along,” he said, “I always knew if there
came a man with an honest, clean record who was also of Irish
descent, he’d be almost impossible to beat.”
     Joe’s fierce commitment to winning sometimes made him abu-
sive to campaign workers and ready to cut corners. During the cam-
paign, Jack enlisted Gardner Jackson, a liberal with strong ties to
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and labor unions, to help
him win support from liberal Democrats. Jackson persuaded the
ADA to back Jack. But to solidify his hold on liberals, he wanted
Kennedy to sign a newspaper ad declaring “Communism and
McCarthyism: Both Wrong.” Since ninety-nine Notre Dame faculty
members and John McCormack agreed to sign, Jack did, too, but he
asked Jackson to read the statement to his father and some of his
aides. Jack, who no doubt knew what his father’s reaction would be,
                      An Unfinished Life    #   171

left for early-morning campaign business before Jackson began.
Almost immediately, Joe jumped up, tilting the card table they were
sitting around against the others and began to shout, “You and your
sheeny friends are trying to ruin Jack.” Joe’s tirade attacking liberals,
labor unions, Jews, and Adlai Stevenson (the Democratic presiden-
tial nominee) concluded with the promise that the statement would
never be published, which it was not. Though Jack rationalized his
father’s behavior by telling Jackson that Joe was acting out of “love
of his family,” he also conceded that “sometimes I think it’s really
pride.” But whatever Joe’s motive, Jack was not averse to squelching
the ad; it was poor politics. McCarthy remained very popular with
the state’s 750,000 Irish Catholics. Indeed, before Adlai Stevenson
made a September trip to Boston, he was advised by a member of
Jack’s campaign staff not to attack McCarthy. “He is very popular
with people of both parties.”
     As in 1946, Joe supported Jack with large infusions of money.
The campaign finance laws were an invitation to break the rules.
Although the candidate himself could spend only $20,000 and indi-
viduals were limited to $1,000 contributions, there was no bar to
indirectly using state party funds to boost a nominee; nor was there
any limitation on giving $1,000 to any and all political committees
that might be set up on a candidate’s behalf. Joe organized four
thinly disguised committees — in addition to Citizens for Kennedy,
there was a More Prosperous Massachusetts committee and three
“improvement” committees, supposedly working to advance the shoe,
fish, and textile industries. Joe may have put several million dollars
into the campaign, which more than matched the $1 million the
state Republican party spent to support Lodge. The Kennedy money
paid for billboard, newspaper, radio, and television ads; financed
Jack’s trips around the state; and paid for the many local campaign
offices, postage for mailings, telephone banks, receptions, and famous
Kennedy teas that attracted thousands of women. A person “could
live the rest of [their] lives on [his] billboard budget alone,” one
commentator asserted. “Cabot was simply overwhelmed by money,”
Dwight Eisenhower later said. Lodge agreed, saying that he lacked
the financial wherewithal to keep up with the Kennedy spending
     The single most telling expenditure Joe made in the campaign
was a loan of $500,000 to John J. Fox, the owner of the Boston Post,
who after he bought the paper for $4 million in June 1952 faced a
                   172   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

financial crisis. The paper was losing half a million dollars a year
and needed to replace an antiquated physical plant and introduce a
home-delivery system to return to profitability. In the fall of 1952,
Joe helped rescue the paper from bankruptcy with his loan.
Although there is no hard evidence of a quid pro quo, Jack did get a
Post endorsement on October 25, less than two weeks before the
election. Because the Post’s backing was believed to be worth forty
thousand votes and because five other newspapers with a combined
circulation 20 percent greater than the Post’s were supporting Lodge,
the Kennedys had been particularly eager for the Post’s endorsement.
(The Globe, then the second-most-read paper in Boston, with half
the Post’s circulation, held to its tradition of not endorsing candi-
dates.) Lodge claimed that Fox had promised to back him. “I’ve
never doubted for a moment that Joe Kennedy was the one who
turned Fox around,” Lodge said later, “though I imagine he handled
it pretty subtly, with all sorts of veiled promises and hints rather
than an outright deal.” In 1960, when the journalist Fletcher Knebel
asked Jack about the loan, he said, “ ‘Listen that was an absolutely
straight business transaction; I think you ought to get my father’s
side of the story.’ ” But as he got up to leave, Knebel said that Jack
added, “ ‘You know we had to buy that fucking paper.’ As if he just
had to level.” Knebel never published Jack’s last remark.
     Joe also made his mark by driving out Mark Dalton as campaign
manager. Jack asked Dalton, who had headed his congressional race
in 1946, to run the 1952 Senate contest. Dalton put aside a thriving
law practice to take on the assignment. But he quickly ran afoul of
Joe, who did not think he was aggressive or savvy enough. Two
months into the campaign, Joe humiliated Dalton by accusing him
of spending funds with no good results. He also blocked an official
announcement naming Dalton as campaign manager. Dalton, who
took it as “a very grave blow” when Jack would not reverse his
father’s decision, resigned.
     Robert Kennedy, who was working as an attorney at the Justice
Department, was reluctantly persuaded to take over managing the
campaign. “I’ll just screw it up,” he told Kenneth O’Donnell, who
was one of Jack’s inner-circle advisers, objecting that he knew noth-
ing about electoral politics. But he agreed to take on the job when
O’Donnell warned that without him the campaign was headed for
“absolute catastrophic disaster.” Bobby worked eighteen-hour days,
driving himself so hard that he lost twelve pounds off a spare frame.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   173

He put in place a Kennedy organization that reached into every part
of the state and stirred teams of supporters to work almost as hard as
he did. In addition, he took on difficult, unpleasant jobs Jack
shunned. When he found professional politicians hanging around
the Boston headquarters, he threw them out. “Politicians do nothing
but hold meetings,” he complained. “You can’t get any work out of a
politician.” When Paul Dever’s organization, which began to falter
in the governor’s race, tried to join forces with Kennedy’s more effec-
tive campaign, Bobby shut them off. “Don’t give in to them,” Jack
told his brother, “but don’t get me involved in it.” Bobby had a bit-
ter exchange with Dever, who complained to Joe about his abrasive
son, with whom he refused to deal in the future.
     Journalists Ralph Martin and Ed Plaut later concluded that
Bobby Kennedy gave the campaign “organization, organization, and
more organization.” The result was “the most methodical, the most
scientific, the most thoroughly detailed, the most intricate, the most
disciplined and smoothly working state-wide campaign in Massachu-
setts history — and possibly anywhere else.” “In each community,”
Dave Powers noted, the campaign set up “a political organization
totally apart from the local party organization. . . . Kennedy volun-
teers delivered 1,200,000 brochures to every home in Massachusetts.”
It was an unprecedented effort to reach voters.
     With Bobby running the day-to-day operation, Jack was free to
concentrate on the issues — anticommunism, Taft-Hartley and labor
unions, the Massachusetts and New England economies, civil rights,
government spending, and which of the two candidates had per-
formed more effectively in addressing these matters. Ted Reardon
prepared a “Black Book” of “Lodge’s Dodges,” emphasizing the
extent to which Lodge had been on all sides of all issues. The cam-
paign also put out comparative charts on what the candidates “Said
and Did From 1947–1951” about major public policies of greatest
concern to voters.
     Yet in spite of the great energy the campaign — and Jack in par-
ticular — put into focusing on issues, they were of relatively little
importance in determining the vote. On all major policy matters, the
two candidates largely resembled each other. They were both inter-
nationalist supporters of containment as well as conservatives with
occasional bows to liberalism; they both favored sustaining labor
unions, less government intervention in domestic affairs, and bal-
anced federal budgets. Lodge, who spearheaded Eisenhower’s drive
                   174   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

for the presidency against the candidacy of Ohio senator Robert Taft,
had his problems with conservative Republicans, some of whom
turned to Kennedy as a more reliable anticommunist and some of
whom voted for neither candidate, which cost Lodge more than it
did Jack. At the same time, however, Jack could hardly trumpet his
six years in the House as a model of legislative achievement. To be
sure, his constituents had few complaints about his service to the
district; but if he were asking voters to make him a senator because
he had been an innovative legislator or a House leader, he would
have been hard-pressed to make an effective case. If his political
career had come to an end in 1952, he would have joined the ranks
of the thousands of other nameless representatives who left no
memorable mark on the country’s history.
     Most observers — then and later — agreed that the election
turned more on personality than on issues. Kennedy aides O’Don-
nell and Powers believed that “voters in that election were not inter-
ested in issues. Kennedy won on his personality — apparently he
was the new kind of political figure that the people were looking for
that year, dignified and gentlemanly and well-educated and intelli-
gent, without the air of superior condescension that other cultured
politicians, such as Lodge and Adlai Stevenson, too often displayed
before audiences.” A former mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, said
in 1960, “There’s something about Jack — and I don’t know quite
what it is — that makes people want to believe in him. Conserva-
tives and liberals both tell you that he’s with them, because they
want to believe that he is, and they want to be with him. They want
to identify their views with him.”
     Jack’s narrow margin of victory over Lodge — 70,737 votes out
of 2,353,231 cast, 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent — was impressive in
light of a 208,800-vote advantage for Eisenhower over Stevenson in
the state and Dever’s loss of the governorship to Christian Herter by
14,000 votes. The outcome surprised some people, including Lodge,
who had an unbeaten string of electoral victories dating from 1932
and had the benefit of an Eisenhower visit to Massachusetts on the
final day of the campaign. “I felt rather like a man who has just been
hit by a truck,” Lodge said. The fact that only five other congressmen
who served with Jack — Nixon and Smathers (the only other Demo-
crat), Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating of New York, and Thurston
Morton of Kentucky — made it to the Senate speaks forcefully about
Kennedy’s achievement.
                     An Unfinished Life   #   175

     Electorally, he certainly had commanded the support of the
Irish, Italians, Jews, French Canadians, Poles, Slovaks, Greeks, Alba-
nians, Portuguese, Latvians, Finnish, Estonians, and Scandinavians.
Torby Macdonald, who was now also a Massachusetts congressman,
had it right when he told Jack on election night that he would win
despite Ike’s certain victory in the state. When Jack asked him why,
Macdonald replied, “I think that you represent the best of the new
generation. Not generation in age but minorities, really. The newer
arrived people. And Lodge represents the best of the old-line Yan-
kees. I think there are more of the newly arrived people than there
are of the old-line Yankees.” To this, Macdonald might have added
women as a group that would help Jack get to the Senate.
     Indeed, the campaign had made special efforts to attract ethnic
and female voters. The evening teas for thirty to forty women at pri-
vate homes ultimately attracted as many as 70,000 voters, most of
whom cast their ballots for Jack. Jewish voters were also given spe-
cial attention because Jack had to overcome allegations that his
father had been anti-Semitic and even pro-Nazi and that he was less
sympathetic to Israel than was Lodge. Several appearances before
Jewish organizations and outspoken support from Eleanor Roo-
sevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., and John W. McCormack, as well as
several nationally prominent Jews such as Senator Herbert Lehman
and current or former congressmen Emanuel Celler, Abraham Ribi-
coff, and Sidney Yates, brought the great majority of Jewish voters
into Jack’s camp. Jack’s charm and his request to one Jewish audi-
ence, “Remember, I’m running for the Senate and not my father,”
were indispensable in helping swing Jews to his side.
     The statistics on ethnic voting for Jack are striking. In 1952,
91 percent of Massachusetts voters went to the polls, an increase
of more than 17 percent from the Senate contest in 1946, with most
of the greater voting occurring in ethnic districts. In the Catholic
precincts of Boston, for example, where Lodge had won respectable
backing in 1946 of between 41 and 45 percent, his support now
dropped to between 19 and 25 percent. The shift was even more pro-
nounced in Boston’s Jewish districts. Where Lodge had won between
60 and 66 percent of the vote against incumbent Catholic senator
David I. Walsh in 1946, his support slipped to below 40 percent in
     Jack’s success rested on something more than being the “First
Irish Brahmin”; he was the first American Brahmin elevated from the
                   176   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

ranks of the millions and millions of European immigrants who had
flooded into the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies. The beneficiary of his father’s fabulous wealth, a Harvard edu-
cation, and a heroic career in the military fighting to preserve
American values, Jack Kennedy was a model of what every immi-
grant family aspired to for themselves and their children. And even if
they could never literally match what the Kennedys had achieved in
wealth and prominence, they took vicarious satisfaction from Jack’s
identification as an accepted member of the American elite. Many of
those voting for him could remember the 1920s and 1930s, when
being a first- or second-generation minority made your standing as
an American suspect. In voting for Jack, the minorities were not sim-
ply putting one of their own in the high reaches of government —
they had been doing that for a number of years — but were saying
that he and they had arrived at the center of American life and no
longer had to feel self-conscious about their status as citizens of the
Great Republic. Jack’s election to the Senate opened the way to a
romance between Jack Kennedy and millions of Americans. It would
be one of the great American love affairs, and in his election day
grin, it was just possible to imagine that Jack himself knew the
match had been made.

        The Senator
        We have not fully recognized the difficulty facing a
        politician conscientiously desiring, in [Daniel] Webster’s
        words, “to push [his] skiff from the shore alone” into a
        hostile and turbulent sea.
          — John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (1956)

AS ONE OF ONLY NINETY-SIX senators, Jack Kennedy hoped to have
an impact on domestic and foreign affairs surpassing anything he
possibly could have done in the Lower House. He knew that some
of the country’s most memorable politicians — John C. Calhoun,
Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, the “fighting” Bob La Follettes, Sr.
and Jr., George Norris, Charles Sumner, and Daniel Webster — had
made their mark in the Senate. But he had no illusions that mem-
bership in America’s most exclusive club conferred automatic dis-
tinction; the great majority of senators — past and present — were
unexceptional. In 1935, Senator J. Hamilton Lewis told Harry Tru-
man after Truman became a Missouri senator that initially, “you will
wonder how the hell you got here, and after that you will wonder
how the hell the rest of us got here.” If Jack did not know this quote
before his election, he certainly came to agree with it once he took
up residence on the Senate floor. His fellow senators were cautious,
self-serving, and unheroic, more often than not the captive of one
special interest or another. Just three months into his term, Jack told
a journalist, “I’ve often thought that the country might be better off
if we Senators and Pages traded jobs.” In 1954, after a year in the
Senate, when someone asked Jack, “What’s it like to be a United
States senator?” he said after a moment, “It’s the most corrupting job
in the world.” He saw senators as all too ready to cut deals and court
                   178    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

campaign contributors to ensure their political futures. Jack also
enjoyed the famous comment of Senate Chaplain Edward Everett
Hale: “Do you pray for the senators, Dr. Hale?” “No,” he replied,
“I look at the senators and I pray for the country.”
     First as a congressman and then, even more so, as a senator, Jack
disliked the pressure to obscure and compromise strongly held
beliefs in the service of political survival. During his first months as
a senator, he received a number of letters chiding him for not being
a “true liberal.” “I’d be very happy to tell them that I am not a lib-
eral at all,” Jack told a reporter. “I’m a realist.”
     But as much as he disliked compromise, Jack was never indiffer-
ent to the vital role that accommodation played in a democracy: Pol-
itics, he said in 1956, was “the fine art of conciliating, balancing and
interpreting the forces and factions of public opinion.” He did see
limits to this process: Jack also believed that a man of conscience
“realizes that once he begins to weigh each issue in terms of his
chances for reelection, once he begins to compromise away his prin-
ciples on one issue after another for fear that to do otherwise would
halt his career and prevent future fights for principle, then he has
lost the very freedom of conscience which justifies his continuance
in office. But to decide at which point and on which issue he will
risk his career is a difficult and soul-searching decision.” As his later
actions demonstrated, Kennedy had an imperfect record in meeting
his own standard; holding, and then moving beyond, his Senate seat
took precedence over political principles more than once in the next
eight years.
     In 1953, at the start of Jack’s Senate service, international perils
made philosophical questions about a senator’s behavior abstrac-
tions of secondary concern. The Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb
in 1949, the U.S. explosion of a 150-times-more-powerful hydrogen
bomb in October 1952, a Chinese communist regime since 1949
leading a chorus of Third World opposition to U.S. imperialism, and
the continuing conflict in Korea made questions of war and peace
central concerns of the new Eisenhower administration and the
Eighty-third Congress. During Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s first six
months in office, ending the Korean fighting and responding to a
Soviet “peace offensive” after Stalin died in March were continually
in the headlines. The question of how to rein in Joe McCarthy, whose
incessant reckless accusations about communists in high places had
undermined civil liberties and divided the nation, was another topic
of constant discussion on Capitol Hill.
                      An Unfinished Life    #   179

     Although these matters of state held Jack’s interest, they initially
commanded less of his attention than practical questions about his
Senate influence and even more mundane ones about organizing his
Senate office. Republican control of the Upper House by a two-seat
margin — 49 to 47 — meant that Kennedy, a freshman member of
the minority, would be one of the least-influential members of the
Senate. Like the House, the Senate placed greater value on member-
ship in the majority and seniority than on a new senator’s abilities,
however impressive they might be.
     But even if circumstances were different, Jack’s top priority had
to be setting up an office that met the needs of his home state. He
relied on the same devoted and effective assistants that had helped
him in the House. Ted Reardon became his D.C. administrative
assistant, and Frank Morrissey continued to head the Boston office.
To meet his larger responsibilities as a senator, Jack hired two native
Nebraskans, Evelyn Lincoln as his personal secretary and Theodore
C. Sorensen as his number two legislative assistant.
     Mrs. Lincoln, as Jack always addressed her, was born Evelyn
Maurine Norton in the hamlet of Polk, Nebraska. Her father, a
farmer and devoted Democrat, served two terms in the U.S. House
of Representatives in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As a resident of
the capital, Evelyn Norton earned a degree from George Washington
University. After marrying Harold Lincoln, a political scientist, Mrs.
Lincoln worked on Capitol Hill from 1950 to 1953, where she
became acquainted with Congressman Kennedy and worked in his
1952 Senate campaign. “A pleasant brunet with a ready twinkle,” the
forty-year-old Mrs. Lincoln impressed Jack as certain to be a devoted
aide who would patiently meet every request. He was not disap-
pointed. As he later told Sorensen, “If I had said just now, ‘Mrs. Lin-
coln, I have cut off Jackie’s head, would you please send over a box?’
she still would have replied, ‘That’s wonderful. I’ll send it right away.
Did you get your nap?’ ”
     Sorensen was another exceptional find for a new ambitious sen-
ator. Jack hired him after two five-minute interviews; but he had
ample information about the twenty-four-year-old lawyer from Lin-
coln, Nebraska, who had been “a lowly attorney” at the Federal
Security Agency and then counsel to the Temporary Committee of
the Congress on Railroad Retirement Legislation. Sorensen came from
a progressive Republican family with a father who had been a cru-
sading Nebraska attorney general and ally of Senator George W. Nor-
ris. Sorensen’s mother, Annis Chaikin, was the offspring of Russian
                   180   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

Jews and, like her husband, a social activist committed to women’s
suffrage and other progressive causes. Kennedy also knew that Soren-
sen was his parents’ child — a civil rights activist, an avowed pacifist,
and an outspoken member of Americans for Democratic Action
(ADA), an organization supporting reform candidates and causes.
    Sorensen was an unlikely choice. In fact, before he went to his
first interview, a knowledgeable D.C. attorney told him, “Jack Ken-
nedy wouldn’t hire anyone Joe Kennedy wouldn’t tell him to hire —
and, with the exception of Jim Landis [a former dean of the Harvard
Law School and Kennedy family lawyer], Joe Kennedy hasn’t hired a
non-Catholic in fifty years!” But Jack needed a stronger liberal voice
in his circle than his own if he were to advance his political career,
and Sorensen was the sort of cerebral, realistic liberal Jack felt com-
fortable with. Sorensen saw himself as someone moved more by
“intellectual than emotional persuasion. I am personally convinced,”
he said, “that the liberal who is rationally committed is more reli-
able than the liberal who is emotionally committed.” When Joe
Kennedy first met Sorensen eight or nine months after Jack hired
him, Joe told him, “You couldn’t write speeches for me. You’re too
much of a liberal. But writing for Jack is different.”
    Despite agreeing to work for Kennedy, Sorensen had doubts
about the senator’s willingness to fight the good fight. He wrote later
that he immediately liked Kennedy, “impressed by his ‘ordinary’
demeanor. He spoke easily but almost shyly, without the customary
verbosity and pomposity. The tailor-made suit that clothed a tall,
lean frame was quietly stylish. A thatch of chestnut hair was not as
bushy as cartoonists had portrayed it. He did not try to impress me,
as officeholders so often do on first meetings, with the strength of
his handshake, or with the importance of his office, or with the
sound of his voice. Except for the Palm Beach tan on a handsome,
youthful face, I saw few signs of glamour and glitter in the Senator-
elect that winter.” But Sorensen felt that if he “were going to throw
in with him, there were certain things [I] wanted to know. I didn’t
want us to be too far apart on basic policy and so I asked the ques-
tions — about his father, Joe McCarthy, the Catholic Church.” Jack
was self-effacing and ready to tell Sorensen what he wanted to hear.
Blessed with the instincts of the politician who can read an audience
or intuit how to put himself in line with a listener’s concerns,
Kennedy described himself as more liberal than his House record
suggested. “You’ve got to remember,” he said, “that I entered Con-
                      An Unfinished Life     #   181

gress just out of my father’s house,” that is, still partly under his con-
servative influence.
    Lincoln, Reardon, and Sorensen set to work in room 362, a four-
room suite, in the Old Senate Office Building. In time, the middle
room, where the door was always open during work hours, became a
hive of activity, crowded with desks, filing cabinets, ringing tele-
phones, clattering typewriters, and a constant stream of visitors. Mrs.
Lincoln presided over this domain, while two small offices to the left
housed Reardon and Sorensen, who in time were joined by several
other aides providing expertise on domestic and foreign issues. To
the right was Jack’s spacious inner office with a large glass-faced
bookcase topped by models of World War II ships and a stuffed
nine-foot sailfish Jack caught off Acapulco in 1953. The wall in the
far right corner of the room displayed old prints and inscribed
framed photos of political friends. The senator sat at a large desk set
in the center of the room before a green marble fireplace. Books,
reports, and souvenirs, including the coconut shell Kennedy had
used to arrange the rescue of his PT 109 crew, covered his desk. “An
air of intense informality hung over the office,” making it, at times,
seem “like a five-ring circus, as Kennedy simultaneously performed
as senator, committee member, Massachusetts politician, author, and
presidential candidate.” Sorensen in particular unstintingly put his
exceptional talent as an analyst and writer in the service of his new
boss: He was “devoted, loyal, and dedicated to the Senator in every
way possible,” Evelyn Lincoln would say later. “Time meant nothing
to him — he gave it all to the Senator.”
    The first task Jack set himself and the staff was fulfilling the
promise of his campaign to do more for Massachusetts than his
predecessor. Asked on Meet the Press shortly after his election what
accounted for his victory over Lodge, Jack pointed to the decline of
the state’s economy “in the last six years with its competition with
the South and its loss of industry. The feeling of the people of the
state was that our interests had been neglected.”
    Sorensen, Harvard economist Seymour Harris, and three mem-
bers of Joe’s New York staff developed forty proposals for New En-
gland economic expansion. Jack described them in three carefully
crafted Senate speeches in the spring of 1953. “The Economic Prob-
lems of New England — A Program for Congressional Action”
argued that what was good for New England was good for America.
“This Nation’s challenge to meet the needs of defense mobilization
                   182   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

and to achieve national and international economic stability and
development,” Jack asserted, “cannot be fully met if any part of the
country is unproductive and unstable economically.” The program
urged help for various Massachusetts industries, including fishing,
textiles, and shipbuilding, as well as for the Boston seaport. Ken-
nedy’s suggestions for stimulating the region’s economy appealed to
Democrats and Republicans alike by offering benefits to business
and labor and promising to serve the national defense. The Congress
would eventually enact most of the program, though slowly and
with little fanfare.
     Congress’s tortoiselike pace meant that, as Ted Reardon told a
supporter, “no great fireworks . . . resulted” from Jack’s initiative.
Since the object of the exercise was not only to help New England
but also to publicize Jack’s fulfillment of 1952 campaign promises,
the office blitzed the media with publicity. Reardon distributed
30,000 copies of the program to special interest groups throughout
New England, and Jack and Sorensen collaborated on articles about
it in American Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, and
the New York Times Magazine.
     The aggressive promotion of Jack’s achievements and reputation
included blunting attacks on him in the state. When Elmer C. Nel-
son, the chairman of the Republican State Committee, “made some
slurring remarks about Jack,” describing him as a “young Democra-
tic fellow with a whirlygig in his hair” who went around serving tea
to ladies to get elected, Jack sent word that if Nelson continued to
refer to him that way, he would “take actions which he thinks are
called for.” Nelson did not test Jack’s resolve.

THE POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING the first Catholic president in-
trigued Jack from the start of his political career. To advance his
national visibility, he staked out a controversial position on the St.
Lawrence Seaway, a proposed river transit system between northern
Canada and the Great Lakes. Although advocates of the project ar-
gued its value to the national economy in general and the Midwest
in particular, concerns that it would crimp the economic life of
Boston’s port had kept Massachusetts senators and representatives
from casting a single vote for the project on the six occasions over
the twenty years it had been before Congress. Jack wrestled with the
issue for months before deciding to speak for the bill’s passage in
January 1954.
    Few issues had troubled him as much during his years in Con-
                      An Unfinished Life    #   183

gress, he declared at the start of his speech. But several considerations
had persuaded him to break with prevailing opinion in his state and
support U.S. participation in building and managing the Seaway.
First, if necessary, Canada would build the waterway without the
United States. Second, a joint effort would give America part owner-
ship and control of a vital strategic international artery, which would
facilitate the shipment of high-grade iron ore the United States
might need for national defense. Third, he believed there would ulti-
mately be little, if any, damage to Boston’s port, where 75 percent of
traffic was “coastwise, intraport and local, which no one has claimed
would be affected by the Seaway.” Fourth, though he saw no reason
to think that the city and state would benefit directly from the proj-
ect, he believed that it would provide indirect economic gains.
Finally, to oppose the Seaway would be to take “a narrow view of my
functions as a U.S. Senator.” Quoting Daniel Webster, Kennedy con-
cluded, “Our aim should not be ‘States dissevered, discordant [or]
belligerent’; but ‘one country, one constitution, one destiny.’ ”
     Although the Boston Post asserted that he was “ruining New En-
gland,” Jack won more than he lost from what some described as a
courageous stand for the national interest. At least one Massachu-
setts newspaper came to his defense and two members of the state’s
congressional delegation, persuaded by Jack’s arguments, voted with
him for the Seaway. More important from Jack’s perspective, his out-
spoken backing of the St. Lawrence project won him attention. In
February 1954, when he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, the host
described him as only the third Democrat in Massachusetts history
to win a U.S. Senate seat. “His sensational victory [had] created
international interest. He is in the news again because of his posi-
tion on the St. Lawrence Seaway.” His stand on the St. Lawrence
project, Ted Sorensen said later, “certainly had the effect of making
him a national figure.”
     So did his pronouncements on defense and foreign policy. Even
after Eisenhower arranged a Korean truce in July, three of the four
most worrisome issues to people were ousting communists from
government, preventing another war, and formulating a clear foreign
policy. In April 1954, 56 percent of Americans remained primarily
concerned about threats of war, communist subversion, and national
defense. By June, despite strong confidence in Eisenhower’s leader-
ship, the number of citizens troubled by these issues had risen to
67 percent. When asked directly about the possibility of a war in
the next five years, between 40 and 64 percent of Americans saw a
                   184   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

conflict as likely. A majority of the country expected atomic and
hydrogen bombs to be used against the United States.
     Kennedy’s readiness to speak out on such questions was partly a
case of cynical showboating. He understood that, as a journalist
friend told him, his pronouncements on foreign affairs put his
“eager boyish puss and ingratiating tones . . . all over the place.” If
he was going to run for president, establishing himself as a Senate
leader on foreign affairs seemed like an essential prerequisite. But
foreign policy was also his long-standing area of expertise, and join-
ing a debate on vital matters of national security appealed to him as
the highest duty of a senator.
     It was, of course, rather courageous of a retired navy lieutenant
and junior senator to take on a popular president whose credentials
as a successful World War II and NATO military chief had carried
him to the White House. But Jack believed that the Eisenhower-
Dulles policy of reduced defense spending to balance the federal
budget and reliance on massive retaliation or nuclear weapons
rather than more conventional ones was an inadequate response to
the communist menace. His recollections of misguided naval actions
initiated by high-ranking officers in World War II encouraged his
     In a Jefferson Jackson Day speech in May 1953, Kennedy said
that it may be that Moscow will continue to rely “on the weapons of
subversion, economic disintegration and guerilla warfare to accom-
plish our destruction, rather than upon the direct assault of an all-
out war. But we cannot count on it.” The Soviets and their satellites
were devoting a large percentage of their national production to war
preparations. Their large land armies supported by air and sea forces
exceeding those in the West put America’s national security in peril,
especially when one considered the military budget cuts proposed
for 1954 by the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy could “not see
how the Western Alliance with a productive potential substantially
larger than that of the Communist bloc, can be satisfied with any-
thing less than a maximum effort, one that has some relation to the
unrelenting efforts of the Soviets to build irresistible military
strength.” This was not an issue “on which the Democrats can win
elections, for only disaster can prove us correct.” Rather, it was a
matter of serving the cause of peace and national well-being, or so
he believed.
     Kennedy had little impact on the Eisenhower defense budgets,
and his fears of an all-out war were a misreading of Soviet inten-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   185

tions. As George Kennan, the architect of containment, understood
at the time, the Soviets viewed their buildup as defensive, a response
to Western plans for the destruction of communism. Their goal was
to defeat the West not with a full-scale war, which they saw them-
selves losing, but by political subversion. Kennedy’s defense pro-
posals, however, were an improvement on Eisenhower’s policy of
massive retaliation, which provided “more bang for the buck,” as the
administration advertised, while reducing America’s capability to
fight a limited or non-nuclear war. Nevertheless, the increased de-
fense spending Kennedy favored threatened to expand the arms race
and bring the two sides closer to an all-out conflict. Kennedy’s pro-
posals were less an imaginative way to ease tensions with Moscow
than a variation on what Kennan described as “the militarization of
the Cold War.”

KENNEDY’S EFFORTS to alter the American response to France’s
struggle in Indochina were wiser than his pronouncements on
defense budgets. As France’s hold on the region became increasingly
tenuous, Jack’s concern to find an effective means of addressing the
crisis was amplified. He asked Priscilla Johnson, a foreign-policy spe-
cialist on his staff, to calculate the extent of French spending on
Indochina’s economic welfare and to suggest reforms that would
spur the anticommunist war effort. Johnson replied that the propor-
tion of French spending on welfare was very small compared with
military aid. She added that the French had given limited control of
affairs to citizens of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam — the three Asso-
ciated States, as they were called; it was difficult to suggest reforms,
Johnson reported, “since the problem is not that of changing exist-
ing institutions, which are being maladministered, but of introduc-
ing institutions which so far do not exist at all.”
     In May 1953, Jack privately told Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles that increasing aid would give the United States the right to
insist on changes that would give “the native populations . . . the
feeling that they have not been given the shadow of independence
but its substance. The American people want in exchange for their
assistance the establishment of conditions that will make success a
prospect and not defeat inevitable.” The State Department agreed
that a transfer of authority to the Associated States was desirable but
saw no way to make this more than a “gradual” process.
     In response, Kennedy put his case before the Congress and the
public. In the summer of 1953, he urged the Senate to make U.S. aid
                   186    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

to the French in Indochina contingent on policies promoting free-
dom and independence for Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. He
believed that French resistance to reform was retarding the war
effort. Jack acknowledged that these were “harsh words to say about
an ancient friend and ally,” but he spoke them in the belief that
America’s financial share of the fighting, which was at 40 percent
and rising, entitled the United States to recommend changes that
held out greater hope of success than the stumbling French policy
followed since 1946. He was reluctant, however, to give the French
an ultimatum, as Arizona’s Republican senator Barry Goldwater
urged; withholding aid unless France initiated democratic reforms in
the Associated States seemed likely to force Paris to abandon the war
in Indochina and open all of Southeast Asia to communism. Jack
proposed instead that American aid “be administered in such a way
as to encourage through all available means the freedom and inde-
pendence desired by the peoples of the Associated States.”
     As French military failure grew more likely in the winter of
1953–54, Jack pressed the case for a French commitment to end its
colonial rule. He also asked the White House to explain how mas-
sive retaliation could save Indochina and the rest of Southeast Asia
from communist control. He wondered “how the new Dulles policy
and its dependence upon the threat of atomic retaliation will fare
in these areas of guerilla warfare. . . . Of what value would atomic
retaliation be in opposing Communist advance which rested not
upon military invasion but upon local insurrection and political
     On Meet the Press in February 1954, Kennedy was asked if he
was suggesting that the United States replace France in Indochina.
No, he answered, because without commitments to independence
for these French colonies, the United States would be facing a hope-
less task. Since he was on record as saying that to lose Indochina was
to lose all of Asia, didn’t he believe it essential for the United States
to fight? No, he said, because he saw no prospect of victory, “and
therefore it would be a mistake for us to go in.” However, he still
had hope that the French could alter matters by promising inde-
pendence and bringing educated local leaders and enough man-
power to their side to reverse the tide of battle. But U.S. military
involvement without this promise would be doomed to failure: “No
amount of American military assistance in Indochina,” he told the
Senate, “can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same
time nowhere, ‘an enemy of the people’ which has the sympathy and
                     An Unfinished Life   #   187

covert support of the people.” The only path to victory was through
the creation of a “native army” that expected sacrifices in blood and
treasure to bring self-determination.
     Kennedy’s assessment of French policy received strong support
in the United States. But it meant nothing to the outcome in South-
east Asia, where French resistance collapsed in May 1954 with the
defeat at the fortress of Dien Bien Phu in the Vietnamese highlands.
As agreed to by China, France, the United States, and the Soviet
Union at a Geneva conference later that year, the country was split in
two at the Seventeenth Parallel — a North Vietnam under a commu-
nist government in Hanoi led by Ho Chi Minh and a South Vietnam
under a pro-Western regime in Saigon led by Ngo Dinh Diem, a
Catholic backed by promises of U.S. economic and military aid.
Determined to supplant French influence in the south, Washington
engineered Diem’s replacement of Bao Dai, the ruling emperor, who
had been a figurehead chief beholden to French power.
     Kennedy was now more emphatic than ever that U.S. military
involvement would be a mistake. In a T V appearance in May, he em-
phasized the pointlessness of committing U.S. forces, which echoed
what the White House was saying. He feared that Indochina “is lost,
and I don’t think there is much we can do about it. . . . There is no
outright military intervention that the United States could take in
Indo-China which I believe would be successful.” Indeed, U.S. inter-
vention seemed certain to provoke a Chinese reaction, and “we’d find
ourselves in a much worse situation than we found ourselves in
     Kennedy’s response to the crisis won him substantial attention
and considerable praise in the press for sensible realism. His dis-
agreements with earlier predictions by Eisenhower officials that “the
French are going to win” moved commentators to describe Kennedy
as an astute foreign policy analyst with a bright political future. No
one noted, however, that Kennedy had exaggerated hopes for what
could be expected of a so-called autonomous Vietnam — a country
that would be dependent on American money and supplies in any
further struggle against communist insurgents. This imperfect judg-
ment would become apparent to Kennedy himself and others only
in time.

KENNEDY’S POLITICAL FUTURE partly depended on finding ways to
avoid alienating antagonistic factions debating McCarthy’s anticom-
munist crusade. Because McCarthy had little proof to back up his
                   188   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

charges and kept changing the number of subversive government
officials, opponents labeled him a reckless demagogue. Yet others
saw the loss of China, the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb, and
the convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for atomic spying and
of Alger Hiss, a once respected State Department official, for falsely
denying that he had passed secrets to the Soviet Union as giving the
ring of truth to McCarthy’s accusations.
     In spite of increasing doubts about McCarthy’s reliability, in
November 1953, 46 percent of those surveyed said it was a good
idea for the Republicans to raise fresh questions about commu-
nists in government during the FDR-Truman years. The following
month, the public listed getting rid of communists in government
as the country’s number one problem, and 50 percent approved of
McCarthy’s commitment to do so.
     But they did not like his methods. In the first months of 1954,
47 percent of Americans disapproved of his behavior, and when
he launched an investigation of subversion in the U.S. Army in the
spring, it further undermined confidence in his tactics. In May,
87 percent of Americans knew about the McCarthy hearings, but a
majority thought they would do more harm than good. By the sum-
mer, 51 percent of those with an opinion were opposed to McCarthy.
     His intemperateness had largely contributed to his decline. He
had called President Truman “a son of a bitch” counseled by men
drunk on “bourbon and Benedictine,” and he had attacked General
George C. Marshall, a World War II hero, as the architect of “a con-
spiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous
such venture in the history of man.” When he also accused Protes-
tant clergymen and U.S. Army officers of, respectively, supporting
and shielding communists, it increased public doubts about his
rational good sense.
     Democrats, led by Senate majority leader Lyndon B. Johnson,
now saw an opportunity to break his hold on the country. McCarthy
is “the sorriest senator up here,” LBJ had told Senate secretary Bobby
Baker. “Can’t tie his goddamn shoes. But he’s riding high now, he’s
got people scared to death some Communist will strangle ’em in
their sleep, and anybody who takes him on before the fevers cool —
well, you don’t get in a pissin’ contest with a polecat.” Understand-
ing how daily exposure would go far to defeat him, Johnson
arranged to have McCarthy’s army hearings televised. Thirty-six days
of T V coverage between April and June 1954 allowed people, in
                      An Unfinished Life    #   189

Johnson’s words, to “see what the bastard was up to.” McCarthy’s
physical features — his unshaved appearance and nasal monotone —
joined with evidence of his casualness about the truth to ruin him.
In September, after nine days of hearings orchestrated by LBJ, a
special Senate committee recommended that McCarthy be “con-
demned” for breaking Senate rules and abusing an army general. In
December, after the congressional elections, the Senate voted con-
demnation by a count of 67 to 22.
     The only Senate Democrat not to vote against McCarthy — or
more precisely, not vote on the issue — was Kennedy. Jack had no
illusions about the man’s ruthlessness and unreliability. In 1953,
when a reporter asked what he thought of Joe, he replied, “Not very
much. But I get along with him. When I was in the House, I used to
get along with [Vito] Marcantonio and [John] Rankin,” demeaning
McCarthy by lumping him with extremists on the left and the right.
In January 1953, when Jack heard that his father had arranged for
Bobby to be appointed as counsel to McCarthy’s subcommittee on
investigations, he regretted what his father had done. “Oh, hell, you
can’t fight the old man,” he said in disgust. Jack was especially criti-
cal of the false charges McCarthy brought against foreign service offi-
cers for the “loss” of China. He dismissed as “irrational” allegations
of communists in the diplomatic corps. In February 1954, he pub-
licly complained of McCarthy’s “excesses.” “You reach the point of
diminishing returns in all of these extreme charges and counter-
charges,” he added.
     Jack also differed with McCarthy on a number of appointments
needing Senate confirmation. In 1953, Jack voted in support of
Charles Bohlen as ambassador to Russia and in 1954 for James
Conant as ambassador to West Germany, despite McCarthy’s attacks
on both men as insufficiently anticommunist. These votes, how-
ever, required no direct confrontation with McCarthy. Neither did
Jack’s support of a ban on speeches by former McCarthy aide Scott
McLeod, who, as a State Department employee, was violating civil
service rules against political activities. But Jack’s successful oppo-
sition to appointing former senator Owen Brewster, a McCarthy
friend, as counsel to the investigations committee, and Robert Lee,
another McCarthy friend, to the Federal Communications Com-
mission incensed McCarthy. “Now wait until you try to get some
special legislation for Massachusetts,” McCarthy threatened Jack.
“He was really furious,” Jack said. “After that, it was just ‘Hello Jack’
                   190   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

when we passed in the hall, but he never really talked to me again
after that.”
    Kenneth Birkhead, who was assistant to the Senate Democratic
whip and the party’s expert on McCarthy, later recalled that Kennedy
was in constant touch with him about McCarthy’s background and
current accusations. “I don’t think there was any other member of
the Senate,” Birkhead said, “who spent as much time contacting me
about McCarthy as did the then Senator Kennedy.” In July 1954, at
the close of the army hearings, when the Senate initially considered
censuring McCarthy, Jack was ready to vote against him. Sorensen
prepared a speech that Kennedy never delivered, because of a deci-
sion to delay consideration of the charges against McCarthy until
after formal hearings and the November elections. In July, however,
Jack was prepared to say that the issue of McCarthy’s censure “is of
such importance that it is difficult for any member not to set forth
clearly his position on this matter.” Though the speech was hedged
with numerous qualifiers, it defended the “dignity and honor” of the
Senate by censuring McCarthy’s conduct — or more precisely, the
conduct of two of his aides for whom he was responsible.
    Why then did Jack fail to vote for condemnation, a lesser charge
than censure, at the end of 1954? After all, by then McCarthy had
been largely repudiated. Historian and Kennedy supporter Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. later said that an unequivocal stand against McCarthy
might have antagonized some Massachusetts Catholics, but it would
have improved Jack’s standing with millions of others in the state.
Connecticut senator Brien McMahon, from a state with a similar per-
centage of Catholics to that of Massachusetts, had openly opposed
McCarthy, and Schlesinger said that “it didn’t hurt him.” But not
everyone concurred. One Massachusetts newspaper may have accu-
rately described the current mood in the state when it said: “[It was]
certainly futile to expect any candidate running for Massachusetts
statewide political office with any chance of winning to criticize Sen-
ator McCarthy. Adherents of both parties are evidently scared to
death of offending the Boston electorate.” Ex-governor Paul Dever
said, “Joe McCarthy is the only man I know who could beat Arch-
bishop Cushing in a two-man election fight in South Boston.” Most
important, Kennedy’s gut told him that his constituents would pun-
ish him if he acted against McCarthy. Reflecting on these judgments,
Jack told one critic of his failure to take a stand, “What was I sup-
posed to do, commit hara-kiri?”
                      An Unfinished Life    #   191

     Jack came to regret his decision. His failure to join all his fellow
Democrats and a majority of the Senate in condemning McCarthy’s
disgraceful behavior became an enduring political problem. Jack
gave a number of unconvincing explanations for his non-vote. “I
never said I was perfect,” he began one defense of himself in 1960.
“I’ve made the usual quota of mistakes. The Joe McCarthy thing? I
was caught in a bad situation. My brother was working for Joe. I was
against it, I didn’t want him to work for Joe, but he wanted to. And
how the hell could I get up there and denounce Joe McCarthy when
my own brother was working for him? So it wasn’t so much a thing
of political liability as it was a personal problem.” It was a weak and,
if believed, selfish excuse.
     His father, Kennedy also claimed, exerted pressure. “He liked
McCarthy,” Jack said in the same interview. “He still has a good
word to say for McCarthy if you were sitting around with him in the
evening. Contribute money to support McCarthy? I wouldn’t doubt
it for a minute.”
     In addition, Jack’s non-vote rested on a detached view of the
people McCarthy attacked. “I had never known the sort of people
who were called before the McCarthy committee,” Jack later told a
journalist. “I agree that many of them were seriously manhandled,
but they all represented a different world to me. What I mean is, I
did not identify with them, and so I did not get as worked up as
other liberals did.” Unquestionably, former Communist Party mem-
bers, 1930s radicals hoping Marxism might rescue America from the
Depression, were not part of any circle Jack frequented. But intellec-
tuals and foreign service officers? They were objects of McCarthy’s
public attacks as well, and Jack knew and admired some of these
     In the final analysis, Jack offered a legalistic explanation for his
non-vote. Reminding critics that he was in the hospital for back sur-
gery during the Senate’s final deliberations on McCarthy, Jack said
he was like an absent member of a jury who had not heard all the
evidence and was not entitled to vote. This is, to say the least, not
very convincing. The matter was more a moral issue than a legal or
technical one, and it had not come out of the blue but after years of
McCarthy’s misbehavior. Jack may have been more candid when he
told a journalist in 1960, “I went into the hospital and I heard noth-
ing about it and cared less and I didn’t have any contact with any-
one at my office and maybe Ted [Sorensen] should have paired me
                   192   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

[i.e., joined someone with an opposite vote in abstaining], but at the
time I didn’t care about the thing. I couldn’t care less. I was in bad
shape and I had other things on my mind.” His preoccupation with
his health is no doubt true. Yet it seems inconceivable that Joe,
Bobby, and others attentive to Jack’s political future would have let
the vote on McCarthy slide by without a decision on what he should
do. For someone who admired courage of any kind — physical,
emotional, political — Kennedy failed the test by ducking the vote,
avoiding taking a stand for reasons of political expediency, and
short-term political expediency at that.
     Jack’s inaction would have negative political consequences for
the next six years. He repeatedly had to explain his non-vote to polit-
ical opponents. His caution also bothered his conscience and made
him more attentive to matters of political independence and courage.
The best one can say about his passive response to the Senate’s vote
on McCarthy is that he subsequently questioned his own decision
and publicly celebrated past examples of senators who had shown
more political courage than he had.

PRIVATE CONCERNS PREOCCUPIED Kennedy during the debate on
condemning McCarthy’s behavior. In 1953, he had reluctantly de-
cided to marry. Up till that time, he had seemed perfectly content
to be the “Gay Young Bachelor,” as a Saturday Evening Post article
then described him: a handsome, casual millionaire who dashed
about Washington in “his long convertible, hatless, with the car’s top
down,” and had the pick of the most beautiful, glamorous women
in and out of town. But Jacqueline Bouvier, a beautiful twenty-two-
year-old socialite, had entered his life, and political necessities dic-
tated that he end his career as the “ ‘Senate’s Confirmed Bachelor.’ ”
One close Kennedy friend doubted that Jack would have married if
he had lost the senate race in 1952, but a wife was essential for a
young senator intent on higher office.
    This is not to suggest that he was marrying strictly for reasons of
political expediency; he had, in fact, fallen in love with Jackie. In
1951, after they met at a dinner party given by their journalist friend
Charlie Bartlett, they began a two-year courtship. From the first,
Jackie seemed like an ideal mate, or as close to it as Jack was likely to
find: physically attractive, bright and thoughtful, shy but charming,
and from a prominent Catholic Social Register family. Jackie also
added to Jack’s public aura, which partly satisfied the political side
                     An Unfinished Life    #   193

of the marriage. She helped legitimize Jack’s standing as an Ameri-
can Brahmin — a royal marrying another member of the country’s
     They shared backgrounds of personal suffering. Jackie’s parents,
John Vernou Bouvier III, a New York Stock Exchange member, and
Janet Lee Bouvier, had divorced when Jackie was nine. Tensions with
her mother and an absent father, whose drinking and womanizing
further separated him from his family, had made Jackie distrustful of
people and something of a loner. By contrast, Jack had countered his
anguish about his health and parental strains by constant engage-
ment with friends. Though outwardly opposites in their detachment
from and affinity for people, beneath the skin they were not so
     “He saw her as a kindred spirit,” Lem Billings said. “I think he
understood that the two of them were alike. They had both taken
circumstances that weren’t the best in the world when they were
younger and,” Billings emphasized, “learned to make themselves up as
they went along. . . . They were so much alike. Even the names —
Jack and Jackie: two halves of a single whole. They were both actors
and I think they appreciated each other’s performances. It was un-
believable to watch them work a party. . . . Both of them had the
ability to make you feel that there was no place on earth you’d
rather be than sitting there in intimate conversation with them.”
Chuck Spalding said that “Jack appreciated her. He really brightened
when she appeared. You could see it in his eyes; he’d follow her
around the room watching to see what she’d do next. Jackie inter-
ested him, which was not true of many women.”
     But there were also frictions that threatened the potential union.
Joe Kennedy worried that Jack might not want to give up his free-
dom. “I am a bit concerned that he may get restless about the
prospect of getting married,” Joe wrote Jack’s friend Torb Macdonald
six weeks before the wedding. “Most people do and he is more likely
to do so than others.”
     Jack’s reluctance expressed itself in a “spasmodic courtship” that
bothered Jackie. She was in Europe for a while after they began dat-
ing, and when she returned, Jack’s campaign for the Senate took pri-
ority over the courtship. After that, Jack was often in Massachusetts,
where he would call her “from some oyster bar . . . with a great
clinking of coins, to ask me out to the movies the following Wednes-
day in Washington.” Possibly more threatening to the relationship
                   194    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

were rumors of Jack’s womanizing. But this, in fact, actually seemed
to make him more attractive to Jackie. Chuck Spalding believed that
“she wasn’t sexually attracted to men unless they were dangerous
like old Black Jack [Bouvier],” her father, whose philandering had
destroyed his marriage to Jackie’s mother. “It was one of those terri-
bly obvious Freudian situations,” Spalding said. “We all talked about
it — even Jack, who didn’t particularly go for Freud, but said that
Jackie had a ‘father crush.’ What was so surprising was that Jackie,
who was so intelligent in other things, didn’t seem to have a clue
about this one.”
     They married at Jackie’s stepfather’s estate in Newport, Rhode
Island, on September 12, 1953. It was a celebrity affair attended by
the rich and famous and numerous members of the press, who
described it as the social event of the year — the marriage of “Queen
Deb” to America’s most eligible bachelor. “At last I know the true
meaning of rapture,” Jack wired his parents during his honeymoon
in Acapulco. “Jackie is enshrined forever in my heart. Thanks mom
and dad for making me worthy of her.”
     This devotion did not last long. The first fifteen months of their
marriage produced tensions that were some of the “other things”
that were on Jack’s mind during McCarthy’s condemnation. Jackie
was unhappy with the priority Jack gave his work over her; even
when he was at home, she said, he seemed so preoccupied that she
might “as well be in Alaska.” “I was alone almost every weekend,”
she recalled. “It was all wrong. Politics was sort of my enemy and we
had no home life whatsoever.” Jack complained that she spent
money like water and redecorated their various residences so often
that he felt “like a transient.” He tried to rein her in. “[Jack] insists
that Jackie either travel or eat well,” Rose wrote daughter Pat, “so the
week ends she spends money on traveling she has to practically
starve at home.”
     Since they had not lived together before marrying, Jackie was
unprepared for what she called Jack’s “violent” independence — by
which she meant not just his habit of going off with his male friends
but, more important, his thinly disguised promiscuity. In theory, she
may have been drawn to her husband’s bad side, but the practical
result was painful. She was not, Lem Billings recalled, “prepared for
the humiliation she would suffer when she found herself stranded at
parties while Jack would suddenly disappear with some pretty young
girl.” Jackie rationalized Jack’s behavior by saying, “I don’t think
                     An Unfinished Life    #   195

there are any men who are faithful to their wives. Men are such a
combination of good and evil.” But one of Jack’s friends recalled
that “after the first year they were together, Jackie was wandering
around looking like the survivor of an airplane crash.”
     Jackie’s unhappiness was no inducement to Jack to restrain him-
self. In the summer of 1956, while she was in the late stages of a
pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage, Jack went on a yachting trip
with George Smathers in the Mediterranean, where he enjoyed “a
bacchanal, with several young women getting on and off the boat at
its ports of call.” He was especially drawn to “a stunning but not par-
ticularly intelligent blonde who . . . referred to herself as ‘Pooh.’ ”
Even after getting the news that Jackie had lost their child, Jack did
not decide to go home until Smathers warned him that a divorce
would play havoc with his presidential ambitions. In 1958, when
younger brother Ted got married, Jack was caught on tape whisper-
ing to him “that being married didn’t really mean that you had to be
faithful to your wife.”
     Health problems compounded Jack’s marital tensions. After the
diagnosis of his Addison’s disease in September 1947, he continued
to struggle with medical concerns. Over the next six years, head-
aches, upper respiratory infections, stomachaches, urinary tract dis-
comfort, and almost constant back pain plagued him. He consulted
an ear, nose, and throat specialist about his headaches, took medi-
cation and applied heat fifteen minutes a day to ease his stomach
troubles, consulted urologists about his bladder and prostate dis-
comfort, had DOCA pellets implanted and took daily oral doses of
cortisone to control his Addison’s disease, and struggled unsuccess-
fully to find relief from his back miseries. “Senator Kennedy has
been a patient of the Lahey Clinic at intervals since 1936, and has
had quite a variety of conditions,” a Lahey Clinic urologist summed
up Jack’s problems in March 1953. The physician described him as
“doing well” in regard to his Addison’s disease. In 1951, however,
while in Japan during his Far East trip, he had suffered a severe
Addisonian crisis. He ran a temperature of 106 degrees and the doc-
tors feared for his life. The episode convinced him to be more fastid-
ious about taking his medicine, and over the next two years his back
problems became his principal complaint.
     In July 1953, Kennedy entered George Washington University
Hospital for back treatment. By the following January, with no relief
in sight, he consulted a specialist at New York Hospital, and then in
                   196   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

April he entered the Lahey Clinic for further consultations. The pain
had become almost unbearable. X rays showed that the fifth lumbar
vertebra had collapsed, most likely a consequence of the cortico-
steroids he was taking for the Addison’s disease. He could not bend
down to pull a sock on his left foot and he had to climb and
descend stairs moving sideways. Beginning in May, he had to rely on
crutches to get around, and his walks to the Senate from his office
on hard marble floors for quorum and roll calls became daily
ordeals. His discomfort made him so short-tempered that Evelyn
Lincoln considered leaving her job. A brief stay in the Bethesda
Naval Hospital in July provided no remedy. In August, a team of
Lahey physicians visited him at the Cape, where they described a
complicated surgery to achieve spinal and sacroiliac fusions. They
explained that without the operation he might lose his ability to
walk, but they warned that so difficult a surgery on someone with
Addison’s disease posed a grave risk of a fatal infection.
     Rose Kennedy said later, “Jack was determined to have the opera-
tion. He told his father that even if the risks were fifty-fifty, he would
rather be dead than spend the rest of his life hobbling on crutches
and paralyzed by pain.” Joe tried to dissuade Jack from chancing the
surgery, reminding him of FDR’s extraordinary achievements despite
being confined to a wheelchair. But Jack assured him, “ ‘Don’t worry,
Dad, I’ll make it through.’ ” After he entered New York’s Hospital
for Special Surgery on October 10, the team of endocrinologists and
surgeons postponed the operation three times until October 21 to
ensure an “extended metabolic work-up prior to, during, and after
     The more-than-three-hour operation was a limited success. A
metal plate was inserted to stabilize the lumbar spine. Afterward a
urinary tract infection put Jack’s life in jeopardy. (Steroids are also
immunosuppressives and make infection more likely and more seri-
ous.) He went into a coma, and a priest was called to administer the
last rites. Fearful of losing his second son, Joe wept openly before
Arthur Krock. “His entire body shook with anger and sorrow,” Rose
recalled. But by December, Jack had shaken the infection and recov-
ered sufficiently to be moved to the family’s Palm Beach home. It
was clear, however, that he remained far from well; his doctors could
not promise that he would ever walk again. Moreover, there was rea-
son to believe that the plate itself was infected. Consequently, in
February, another operation was performed at the same New York
                     An Unfinished Life    #   197

hospital to remove the plate. Extracting it meant removing three
screws that had been drilled into the bone and replacing shattered
cartilage with a bone graft. After another three months recuperating
in Florida, Jack returned in May to Washington, where he received a
warm welcome from Senate colleagues who admired his determina-
tion to maintain his career in the face of such debilitating medical
     Because his absence from Washington over so long a period
could not be hidden, the Kennedys had no choice but to acknowl-
edge his illness. Public knowledge of Jack’s surgery and slow recov-
ery, however, benefited rather than undermined his image. Jack came
through this medical ordeal looking courageous — not weak and
possibly unfit for higher office, as his family had feared. Neverthe-
less, the Kennedys did not trust that coming clean about Jack’s
health problems in the future would generate a similar result.
     Throughout it all, Jack worried that his non-vote on McCarthy’s
censure had been politically unwise and morally indefensible. In
December, as he was about to be carried on a stretcher from the hos-
pital for his trip to Florida, Chuck Spalding, who was in his room,
recalls him saying, “ ‘You know, when I get downstairs I know exactly
what’s going to happen. Those reporters are going to lean over my
stretcher. There’s going to be about ninety-five faces bent over me
with great concern, and every one of those guys is going to say,
‘Now, Senator, what about McCarthy?’ ” And he said, “ ‘Do you know
what I’m going to do? I’m going to reach back for my back and I’m
just going to yell, Oow, and then I’m going to pull the sheet over my
head and hope we can get out of there.’ ”

INCREASINGLY FASCINATED with the issue of moral and political
courage — “at which point and on which issue he [a politician] will
risk his career” — Kennedy now began thinking about writing a
book on the subject. This was partly a retrospective coming to terms
with his moral lapse on McCarthy, but it was also more: He had
been interested in the subject for a long time, going back to at least
the failure of British political leaders in the thirties to oppose popu-
lar resistance to rearming. And his election to the House and the
Senate gave him added reason to think about the proper role of an
elected legislator in dealing with conflicting pressures every time he
had to vote. Where is the line between satisfying local demands and
sometimes defying them for the sake of larger national needs? Early
                   198   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

in 1954, after reading in Herbert Agar’s Price of Union about the
independence demonstrated by John Quincy Adams, Kennedy asked
Ted Sorensen to find other examples of senators “defying constituent
pressures.” Feelings about conforming to his father’s wishes and act-
ing on his own judgment were surely also part of the interest that
drew Kennedy to the problem.
     Kennedy understood that there were varieties of courage. He had
firsthand knowledge of the bravery men showed in war and com-
petitive sports. There was also self-mastery of the sort Franklin
Roosevelt had shown in overcoming private suffering to pursue a
successful public career. Jack quoted Eleanor Roosevelt’s description
of her husband’s polio attack as a “turning point” that “proved a
blessing in disguise; for it gave him strength and courage he had not
had before.” Jack’s colitis, Addison’s disease, and back miseries had
provided him with a similar, if not as large, challenge. In a 1956
magazine article about his back surgery, “What My Illness Taught
Me,” Jack described a letter he had received from a ninety-year-old
lady when he was flat on his back in the hospital and feeling glum.
Though she was bedridden, she was “full of hope and good humor.”
She had never voted for a Democrat and wanted the chance to vote
for at least one before she died. She thought it “might stand me in
good stead up above. So I want you to be up to running in 1958.
Don’t waste away feeling sorry for yourself,” she advised. “Keep busy.
Do all the things you never had time to do.” Jack said the letter was
“a tonic for my spirits,” and if he had not received it, he might
“never have got around to writing my book.” Whether the lady’s
advice was quite as important as Jack represented it to be is beside
the point; his illness gave him additional inspiration to write what
would eventually be called Profiles in Courage.
     The book recounts the careers of eight senators — John Quincy
Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Ed-
mund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George W. Norris, and Robert Taft —
all of whom had shown uncommon courage in risking their political
careers by taking unpopular stands that put them at odds with
majorities in their parties, states, and regions. It was a celebration
in a time of uncertain prospects for democracy in its competition
with communism, and a healthy antidote to the periodic cynicism
that besets Americans about politicians and the country’s system of
     Published in 1956, the book became a national bestseller and
added to Jack’s prominence, but it also raised questions. Where did a
                     An Unfinished Life    #   199

busy U.S. senator sidelined by serious medical problems find the
wherewithal to write so successful a book? According to one earlier
biographer, interviews and research into contemporary papers, in-
cluding those of Ted Sorensen, who helped Jack with the book,
prove “Jack Kennedy’s involvement: from start to finish, the respon-
sibility was clearly his. . . . Personalities to be included were sug-
gested by several people; the Preface acknowledges many debts, but
the choices, message, and tone of the volume are unmistakably
Kennedy’s.” Sorensen and Professor Jules Davids of Georgetown
University, with whom Jackie had taken courses, gathered materials
for the book and drafted chapters, but the final product was essen-
tially Jack’s. He edited what Sorensen and Davids gave him and then
dictated final chapter drafts for a secretary to type. The tapes of these
dictations, which are available at the John F. Kennedy Library, pro-
vide conclusive evidence of Jack’s involvement. Jack did more on the
book than some later critics believed, but less than the term author
normally connotes. Profiles in Courage was more the work of a “com-
mittee” than of any one person.
     As interesting as the debate about Jack’s authorship were his pri-
vate and public reactions to questions that were raised about it. Sug-
gestions that the book was not his idea or the product of his work
incensed him. In 1956, when a Harvard classmate and radio journal-
ist ribbed Jack about the allegations, he became furious. Jack nor-
mally loved that kind of repartee with old friends, but questions
about his authorship were different; they touched something in him
that left no room for humor. When New York Times editor John
Oakes privately passed along the rumor that Jack was not the author,
Jack confronted him with “evidence” to the contrary. (“I sure wasn’t
convinced by this,” Oakes said. “Undoubtedly Ted [Sorensen] or
someone else wrote it.”) When columnist Drew Pearson asserted in
a television interview that the book was “ghostwritten,” Jack asked
prominent Washington attorney Clark Clifford to compel a retrac-
tion, which Pearson reluctantly gave.
     Jack certainly hoped that Profiles would identify him with un-
compromising political responses to national dangers. He yearned
for a challenge that would give him an opportunity to act like a
political hero. The best he could find was a congressional proposal
to reform the electoral system. Jack took up the cudgels against what
he described as “one of the most far-reaching — and I believe mis-
taken — schemes ever proposed to alter the American constitutional
system. No one knows with any certainty what will happen if our
                   200   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

electoral system is totally revamped as proposed.” Jack emphasized
how well the existing electoral system had worked to ensure the
influence of the popular vote, the two-party system, and “the large-
State-small-State checks-and-balances system.” The proposed amend-
ment, which he feared could destabilize American politics at a time
of grave foreign challenges, was nothing voters had demanded or
even knew about. Although Jack gave a lengthy, authoritative Senate
speech that contributed to the defeat of the amendment, his opposi-
tion hardly registered on the press or the public; reform of the elec-
toral college was an invisible controversy.

political challenges Kennedy faced between 1954 and 1956 centered
on the Massachusetts Democratic party — a venue not for heroics
but for self-serving, brass-knuckle politics disconnected from any
larger public good. In 1954, Kennedy found himself in a battle with
Foster Furcolo, a Yale-trained Italian American attorney who had
served as a Massachusetts congressman and state treasurer and was a
Democratic candidate for Republican Leverett Saltonstall’s U.S. Sen-
ate seat. In 1952, Furcolo, looking ahead to a Senate race and the
need for independent and Republican votes, gave Jack cautious sup-
port against Lodge. In response to this tepid endorsement, Jack, who
had an excellent working relationship with Saltonstall and a high
personal regard for him, was reluctant to back Furcolo. And like
Furcolo two years before, Jack did not want to antagonize non-
Democrats who had supported him and might vote for him again in
1958. Nor was Jack eager to help someone he saw as an ambitious
rival for statewide influence and possible national power.
    Jack’s tensions with Furcolo came to a head in October 1954,
just before he entered the hospital for surgery. In a joint television
appearance with Robert Murphy, the party’s gubernatorial candidate,
and Furcolo, Jack showed himself to be visibly more sympathetic to
Murphy than to Furcolo. He also ignored Furcolo’s demand that he
directly attack Saltonstall. At one point, before the program began,
Jack, who was on crutches and in a great deal of pain, stormed out
of the studio, saying to Frank Morrissey, “That goddamn guinea.”
After Morrissey told a journalist that Jack did not want Furcolo
elected, Kennedy’s office refused further comment on the clash.
But it was an open secret, and in the view of Kennedy aides Ken
O’Donnell and Dave Powers, “the only wrong political move Jack
Kennedy ever made.”
                     An Unfinished Life   #   201

     More constructive was an eighteen-month battle for statewide
control of the Democratic party. Jack had initially been reluctant to
get into an intraparty conflict he associated with traditional Boston
politics, and his father urged against it as well: “Leave it alone and
don’t get into the gutter with those bums up there in Boston,” Joe
told him. But O’Donnell and another Kennedy aide, Larry O’Brien,
advised otherwise. Speculation that Jack might be Adlai Stevenson’s
running mate in 1956 convinced them that Jack’s selection and
political future now turned on delivering the Massachusetts delega-
tion to Stevenson at the party’s nominating convention. Conse-
quently, they urged Jack to wrest control of the state party committee
from John McCormack and his ally William H. (“Onions”) Burke,
the chairman of the Democratic State Committee, who intended to
back New York governor Averell Harriman for the presidential nom-
ination. Massachusetts congressman Philip Philbin also urged Jack
to take on McCormack and Burke. “There is a great ‘hassle’ going on
in the erudite Massachusetts Democracy,” he sarcastically told Jack
in March 1955. “Various learned ‘savants’ and ‘intellectuals’ who
shape the upper crust of our party organization are conducting a
campaign for control, perhaps I should say a campaign to insure our
defeat at the next election.” Kennedy and his team needed, Philbin
said, to clean “up this deplorable situation.”
     With Jack still recuperating from his surgery in Florida, he was
not ready to act. He praised O’Brien and O’Donnell for their analysis
of the situation but deferred a decision until he could return to
Massachusetts for discussions. In the meantime, he asked them “to
study proposed courses of action.” They began doing more than
that, pressuring Democratic state bosses to accept Jack as their
leader. And Jack, who shared their conviction that a fight for party
control, however unpalatable, was vital to his future, soon threw
himself into the battle with characteristic determination. Pointing to
polls demonstrating his popularity and threatening to put himself
forward as a favorite-son presidential candidate, Jack persuaded
McCormack and Burke to give him an equal say in choosing the
party’s 1956 delegation to the national convention. At the same
time, however, he instructed O’Brien and O’Donnell to work secretly
to oust Burke and his allies from the state committee. “So we can’t
let Burke or McCormack know that we’re trying to get our people on
the state committee,” he told his aides. “At least, not for the time
being. Keep working on it, but don’t let Burke know about it, and
don’t mention my name to anybody.”
                   202   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     Since Jack’s opposition to Burke was well known, Burke took
precautions to counter Kennedy’s attack. In March and April 1956,
while Jack helped organize a write-in vote for Stevenson in the state’s
Democratic presidential primary, Burke countered with a favorite-
son campaign for John McCormack. With support from Boston Post
publisher John Fox, a staunch McCarthy backer and all-out oppo-
nent of Stevenson, the Burke forces gave McCormack a 10,000-vote
victory over Adlai.
     Jack now saw no alternative to an open fight with Burke.
Although the Burke machine had the advantage of incumbency in a
May 19 election for the party’s eighty committee seats, Jack moved
quickly to exploit Burke’s unsavory image and unpopularity around
the state. A short, rotund, balding onion farmer from the Berkshires,
Burke had limited appeal to Boston Democrats. More important, a
propensity for riding roughshod over opponents had created many
enemies, who were all too happy to join Jack’s campaign. Sensing
Burke’s vulnerability when contrasted with himself, Jack let it be
known that he had given Burke an ultimatum — resign or be
ousted. He issued a judicious statement of intent that further con-
trasted him favorably with Burke. “I do not relish being involved in
this dispute,” he said, but he saw no other way “to restore our party
to dignity and respect.” When Burke associated Stevenson supporters
with communist sympathizers and falsely accused Jack of trying to
bribe him with a promise of appointment as Democratic national
committeeman, it incensed Democrats and added to the feeling that
Burke was unworthy of high public influence.
     The struggle turned into a no-holds-barred contest. Jack wrote,
called, and met with committee candidates to ask for their support
in overthrowing Burke. Needing to suggest a replacement, he re-
luctantly picked John “Pat” Lynch, the longtime mayor of Somer-
ville. Lynch was a surprising choice; he was one of the old pols
Jack seemed determined to defeat. Indeed, when O’Donnell brought
Lynch in to see Jack, he “saw the shock on Jack’s face.” The small,
bald-headed fifty-five-year-old “leprechaun,” as O’Donnell described
him, dressed in a wide-brimmed hat and velvet-collared coat typi-
cal of Boston’s Irish politicians was no one Jack wanted to identify
with. But when the Dever Democrats made clear that it would be
Lynch or Burke, Jack endorsed Lynch. Even then, threatened fistfights
and mayhem marked a three-hour committee meeting that pro-
duced a 47–31 vote for Lynch and Jack’s undisputed control of the
state party.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   203

     It had been the first time Jack had been “caught in a mud-slinging
Boston Irish political brawl. We never saw him so angry and frus-
trated,” O’Donnell and Powers wrote. During and after the fight,
Kennedy took pains to divorce himself publicly from “gutter” poli-
tics. In an article published in the April Vogue and a June commence-
ment address at Harvard, when the university gave him an honorary
degree, he decried the current antagonism between intellectuals and
politicians and reminded readers and listeners that the two were not
mutually exclusive. Recalling the careers of Jefferson, Madison, Hamil-
ton, Franklin, and the Adamses, he said “[The] nation’s first great
politicians . . . included among their ranks most of the nation’s first
great writers and scholars.” Recounting an anecdote about an En-
glish mother who urged her son’s Harrow instructors not to distract
him from a Parliamentary career by teaching him poetry, Jack de-
clared, “If more politicians knew poetry and more poets knew poli-
tics, I am convinced that the world would be a little better place
to live.”
     The speech partly eased Jack’s discomfort with the ugly fight he
had just passed through, and it may also have been aimed at Adlai
Stevenson, who shared Jack’s affinity for a union of poetry and
power. But more important, it expressed his genuine idealism about
what he wished to see in American political life. Seven years later, at
the height of his public influence, he repeated the value he placed
on those committed to the life of the mind. In an October 1963
speech at Amherst College, he would say, “The men who create
power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness,
but the men who question power make a contribution just as indis-
pensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they
determine whether we use power or power uses us.”

IN 1956, JACK thought less about the uses of power than about
its acquisition — specifically, how to gain the vice presidency. In
September 1955, after Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and specu-
lation arose that he might not run again, Democratic party pros-
pects in 1956 brightened. A vice presidential nomination for Jack
could be the prelude to an eight-year term as VP, followed by a run
for the White House in 1964, when he would be only forty-seven
years old.
     For the Democrats to win the White House, however, Joe and
Jack thought that the party would have to find a nominee other
than Adlai Stevenson. They preferred Lyndon Johnson. Although no
                   204   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

southern Democrat had won the presidency or even been nomi-
nated in the twentieth century (Woodrow Wilson, a Virginian by
birth, ran as governor of New Jersey), Johnson seemed a reasonable
bet to break that tradition. A dominant figure in the Senate and the
party, with credentials as a moderate who could appeal to all regions
of the country, Johnson was keenly interested in running.
     In October 1955, Joe asked Tommy Corcoran, a prominent
Washington “fixer” and friend of LBJ’s from the New Deal days, to
carry a message to Johnson. If Lyndon would declare for the presi-
dency and privately promise to take Jack as his running mate, Joe
would arrange financing for the campaign. Because raising enough
money would not be easy for any Democrat in 1956 and because
Jack would bring a number of attributes to the ticket, Joe believed
his offer would get serious consideration. But LBJ immediately re-
jected it. Reluctant to declare before he was sure that Eisenhower
would not run and fearful that an announcement would encourage
other candidates to join a “stop Lyndon” movement, Johnson sim-
ply said he was not running. According to Corcoran, Johnson’s
response “infuriated” Bobby Kennedy, who declared it “unforgivably
discourteous to turn down his father’s generous offer.” In a conver-
sation between Jack and Corcoran in Jack’s Senate office, Kennedy
said, “ ‘Listen, Tommy, we made an honest offer to Lyndon through
you. He turned us down. Can you tell us this: Is Lyndon running
without us? . . . Is he running?’ ” Corcoran answered, “Of course he
is. He may not think he is. And certainly he’s saying he isn’t. But I
know God damned well he is.” Joe Kennedy called Lyndon directly,
but the answer was still no.
     Johnson’s rejection did not deter Jack from putting himself for-
ward as a potential running mate. In January 1956, when a Massa-
chusetts state senator advised Jack that he wanted to start such a
campaign, Jack agreed to talk with him but cautioned against an
overt effort; he preferred to keep a low profile until he had con-
vinced Democrats, especially Stevenson, that he would be a strong
addition to the ticket. Part of this quiet strategy entailed controlling
the Massachusetts delegation to the party’s national convention. It
also meant getting sympathetic journalists to talk up Jack’s can-
didacy. In February 1956, Fletcher Knebel, a Look writer, described
Jack as on everyone’s list of possible Stevenson running mates. Jack
had “all the necessary Democratic assets”: youth, good looks, liberal
views, a record of military bravery, and proven vote-getting ability.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   205

Moreover, his religion, which would have been a bar to nomination
in the past, was described as no longer a problem. On the contrary,
Knebel cited a document Ted Sorensen had prepared arguing that a
Catholic on the ticket in 1956 would be a distinct asset in northern
states with large Catholic populations. In June, Knebel addressed the
issue directly in an article, “Can a Catholic Become Vice President?”
     Sorensen also prepared a comparative study of twenty-one po-
tential Stevenson running mates, analyzing their attributes in twelve
categories: availability, compatibility, political outlook, public repu-
tation, marital condition, officeholding or political experience, age
and health, military record, voter appeal, T V personality, and wealth.
On Sorensen’s chart, not surprisingly, only Jack received a positive
mark in every category. (Sorensen apparently did not know the full
story of Jack’s various health problems.) In August, shortly before
the convention met, Sorensen put the case for Jack before Stevenson
through an aide. Despite a growing list of public endorsements, led
by New England governors and Tennessee senator Albert Gore Sr.,
Stevenson — who saw Kennedy’s Catholicism as an insurmountable
obstacle — was not convinced. Jim Farley, FDR’s Catholic postmas-
ter general and Democratic party “wheel horse,” concurred, telling
Adlai that “America is not ready for a Catholic yet.” House Speaker
Sam Rayburn weighed in against Jack as well. “Well, if we have to
have a Catholic,” he said, “I hope we don’t have to take that little
piss-ant Kennedy. How about John McCormack?”
     And if Stevenson was the nominee, Joe remained convinced that
Jack should not run. Eisenhower’s recovery from his heart attack and
decision to stand again made it unlikely that Stevenson could win. A
straw poll in June 1956 showed the president with a 62 to 35 per-
cent lead over Adlai. Moreover, Joe feared that a Democratic defeat
would be blamed on Jack’s Catholicism and would undermine his
chances for the presidency.
     But Jack was not convinced. He continued to press the case for
his nomination, telling Joe that “while I think the prospects are
rather limited, it does seem of some use to have all of this churning
up.” In July, Sargent Shriver, Eunice Kennedy’s husband and director
of Kennedy enterprises at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, directly
urged Jack’s candidacy on Stevenson during a plane trip from Cape
Cod to Chicago. Shriver made clear to Adlai that despite Joe Ken-
nedy’s publicly stated misgivings, he would be “100% behind Jack”
and described Joe as ready to return from his summer vacation in
                   206   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

France in twenty minutes if Jack wanted him. Eunice wrote her father
in August that without a vice presidential nomination and cam-
paign, which would make him “better known,” Jack did not think
the party would “select him as a presidential candidate any . . . time
in the future.”
     Stevenson was not swayed. He believed he needed a southerner,
or at least a border state senator. Moreover, with a number of candi-
dates actively seeking the nomination, he hoped to avoid alienating
any of them by letting the convention choose for him. It was a thin
tightrope to walk. Stevenson was eager to maintain good relations
with Joe Kennedy, who was a promising source of campaign funds
in what “looked like a thin year for the Democrats.” But Adlai’s
refusal to follow tradition by picking a running mate angered the
Kennedys, who saw it as a way to avoid taking Jack.
     Although Stevenson’s decision made it extremely difficult for
Jack to win the nomination, he did have several things working in
his favor. On Monday, August 13, the first night of the Chicago con-
vention, he was the narrator of a film celebrating the Democratic
party and its recent heroes such as Roosevelt and Truman. The New
York Times compared his appearance to that of a “movie star” whose
personality and good looks made him an instant celebrity. And be-
fore the convention even met, Kennedy supporters had set up a
headquarters in the Palmer House hotel to promote Jack’s candidacy.
     On Wednesday, ostensibly to give Jack greater visibility and
prominence but largely as a way to blunt Jack’s drive for the second
spot, Stevenson asked him to put his name in nomination for the
presidency. Jack complied, and although Stevenson denied it, Ken-
nedy accurately saw Stevenson’s request as a compensatory gesture
for being denied the vice presidency. And indeed, Stevenson’s deci-
sion to leave the VP choice to the convention had placed significant
obstacles in Kennedy’s way. Instead of having only to convince Ste-
venson and his advisers to put him on the ticket, Jack now had to
bring a majority of the convention delegates to his side. In a compe-
tition with Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver, who had a large base of
delegate support, Jack had little chance to win.
     But Jack was determined to push ahead. Jack instructed Bobby to
call their father on the Riviera to tell him about Stevenson’s maneu-
ver, to say that Jack was running, and to ask Joe to press Jack’s case
over the telephone with as many influential Democrats as he could
reach. Joe Kennedy thought his son was making a terrible mistake.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   207

According to Rose Kennedy and Kenny O’Donnell, Joe exploded in
anger. He “denounced Jack as an idiot who was ruining his political
career.” “Whew! Is he mad!” Bobby said after the phone connection
was lost. Anticipating Joe’s reaction, Jack had left the room; deciding
to run was an act of defiance against his father, and it was easier to
let Bobby take the heat. (Lem Billings recalled that Jack had initially
experienced “a sudden warmth” after deciding to ignore Joe’s
advice — as if he had drunk “an entire bottle of wine.” But Jack suf-
fered a “momentary paralysis” after hearing Joe’s reaction.) True,
once Jack had made up his mind to run, Joe did everything in his
power to help. But it was no small act of personal courage for Jack to
make so big a political decision without his father’s initial approval.
     Kennedy’s backers entered the fight with a “realistic sense of
futility.” Led by Jack and Bobby, they spent the night after Stevenson
announced the open VP contest arranging for the banners, buttons,
leaflets, placards, and noisemakers needed for a winning effort. They
also ran from one convention hotel to another, asking, begging,
cajoling, flattering, and pressuring delegates to join the swelling
ranks of a man they described as a likely future president who would
remember their support in his hour of need.
     Kefauver retained a significant lead. His unsuccessful compe-
tition with Stevenson for the presidential nomination had never-
theless left him with a large number of delegates — 483 1⁄2 — who
were ready to back his vice presidential candidacy, despite having no
mandated obligation to do so. This was, however, 203 short of selec-
tion, and Jack’s first ballot total of 304 turned the nomination into a
real contest. Because Kefauver was unpopular in the South, where
his support of civil rights had made him a renegade and because
Stevenson had broken precedent by allowing the convention to
choose his running mate, the nomination was genuinely up for
grabs. With support from anti-Kefauver southerners led by the Texas
delegation — “Texas proudly casts its fifty-six votes for the fighting
sailor who wears the scars of battle,” LBJ announced — Jack surged
ahead of Kefauver on the second ballot by 648 to 5511⁄2, just 38 short
of nomination. But Kefauver’s backers promptly persuaded several
state delegations, led by Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Missouri, to
switch and shift the momentum back to him. A vote of 7551⁄2 to
Jack’s 589 gave Kefauver the victory and the nomination.
     Bobby Kennedy would later remember that “we lost because
we weren’t properly organized. If the delegates had known when
                   208    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Tennessee had switched that we were only thirty-eight votes from a
majority, there wouldn’t have been all those switches to get on the
Kefauver bandwagon. They didn’t realize we were that close.” But
other things worked against Jack as well. Liberals, led by Eleanor
Roosevelt, who had resisted Jack’s request for her support by com-
plaining that he had not actively opposed McCarthy, were generally
unenthusiastic about putting Kennedy on the ticket. In addition,
a lot of Democrats, including many Catholics, believed that a Catho-
lic running mate would undermine chances of beating Eisenhower
and of holding the Congress. Ike’s illness had forcefully reminded
voters that a VP was “only a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.”
Kefauver’s runner-up status for the presidential nomination, how-
ever circumscribed by the limited number of primaries (he had won
39 percent of Democratic primary votes to Stevenson’s 52 percent),
had also made it difficult for the party to deny him second place.
     Although the defeat stung Jack, most commentators agreed that
his candidacy had been a net gain. An appearance before the con-
vention to ask unanimous backing for Kefauver was a triumph of
public relations, as was the impression he made throughout the pro-
ceedings. Despite his defeat, Jack “probably rates as the one real vic-
tor of the entire convention,” a Boston journalist wrote. “He was
the one new face that actually shone. His charisma, his dignity, his
intellectuality, and, in the end, his gracious sportsmanship . . . are
undoubtedly what those delegates will remember. So will those who
watched it and heard it via T V and radio.” Joe agreed: He thought
that Jack had come “out of the convention so much better than any-
one could have hoped. . . . His time is surely coming!” Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. wrote Jack that “you clearly emerged as the man who
gained most during the Convention. . . . Your general demeanor and
effectiveness made you in a single week a national political figure. . . .
The campaign provides a further opportunity to consolidate this
     Jack’s upward trajectory continued into the fall as he cam-
paigned for Stevenson. Though Stevenson’s aides wanted him to
concentrate on Massachusetts and a few other swing states with a big
Catholic vote, Kennedy organized an itinerary that gave him much
wider exposure and promised to do more for his political future
than for Stevenson’s candidacy. Whatever discomfort he might have
felt at putting his interests ahead of the candidate was eased by the
realistic assessment that Stevenson’s campaign was a losing effort
                     An Unfinished Life   #   209

from the start. Running against a popular incumbent, whose four-
year term included an end to the Korean War; economic expansion;
and a deft handling of difficulties with Communist China over the
offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, the Hungarian uprising
against Soviet rule (which the administration used to blacken Mos-
cow’s international reputation in the Third World), and the Suez cri-
sis, Stevenson never had a chance.
     Whatever hope Stevenson may have had evaporated in a cam-
paign Bobby Kennedy described as “the most disastrous operation”
he had ever seen. Bobby, who traveled with Stevenson at the candi-
date’s request, thought he did almost everything wrong. He read
speeches where he should have spoken them to create some sense of
spontaneity; he focused on arcane matters that resonated little with
voters; he wasted time on organizational questions he should have
delegated to aides; and he showed indecision on all manner of
things. “Stevenson was just not a man of action at all,” Bobby con-
cluded at the time.
     Meanwhile, Jack seemed to be everywhere, exuding charm, of-
fering sensible pronouncements, and muting his competitiveness
and ambition for greater national recognition with self-deprecating
humor. He crisscrossed twenty-four states, giving more than 150
speeches that endeared him to audiences. The lesson of running a
national political campaign, he told a Boston group, is to “be pre-
pared. Be prepared to travel day and night, east and west, in an over-
heated limousine in ninety-three-degree weather in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, and in an open-car motorcade in raw thirty-degree tempera-
ture in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and Twin Falls, Idaho.” (Twin Falls
was “one of the most important metropolises I visited in my search
for Democratic voters,” he declared to the amusement of his audi-
ence. “Despite the ill effects of that freezing ride on my health and
morale, there was at least no danger to my person in that Republican
stronghold, for there were more of us in the motorcade than there
were on the streets to greet us.”) He reminded his listeners that for
“one brief moment of glory” he had been a candidate for VP.
“Socrates once said that it was the duty of a man of real principle to
avoid high national office, and evidently the delegates at Chicago
recognized my principles even before I did.”
     Kennedy balanced his public effectiveness by shrewd private
judgments. He said to Rose that if brother Joe had lived, he would
have entered politics and been elected to the House and the Senate.
                   210   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

“And, like me, he would have gone for the vice-presidential nomina-
tion at the 1956 Convention, but unlike me, he wouldn’t have been
beaten. Joe would have won the nomination. And then he and
Stevenson would have been beaten by Eisenhower, and today Joe’s
political career would have been in shambles.”

JACK UNDERSTOOD that his defeat in Chicago had been a stroke of
luck. And a Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded him in April 1957 for
Profiles in Courage, was another piece of good fortune. Though the
Pulitzer jurors had put five distinguished works of biography ahead
of his, the board had decided to give his book the prize as “a distin-
guished American biography . . . teaching patriotic and unselfish
service to the people.” Recognizing that Jack’s prize was an extraordi-
nary event, Torby Macdonald sent him a telegram jesting that he had
probably also won the Irish Sweepstakes and received land grant
deeds naming him the rightful owner of Texas and California.
     Indeed, the Pulitzer seemed more than a bit unlikely, and there
is some evidence that Arthur Krock may have personally lobbied the
board for Jack. On Christmas Eve 1955, Jack called Evan Thomas Sr.,
his editor at Harper & Brothers, to ask that publication be moved up
from January to December. “Why is that?” Thomas asked. “Well,” he
said, “I’ve just been talking to Arthur Krock and I understand it
would win the Pulitzer Prize this year.” Thomas refused Jack’s
request, but the book won anyway.
     The Pulitzer was largely a case of good timing: In a period of
national challenge and peril, when self-indulgence was a national
watchword, Jack’s book was seen as a rallying cry to put public
needs above private concerns. But Jack understood how useful the
prize was to his ambition. At the age of thirty-nine, he feared being
seen as too young and untested for heavy responsibilities better
suited to older, more experienced men such as Eisenhower. The
Pulitzer gave him the stamp of seriousness and even wisdom that
Americans saw as invaluable in meeting difficulties abroad and at
home. It also carried perils. The Pulitzer sparked predictable envy:
New rumors circulated that he had not written the book. It was also
alleged that sales figures were doctored to get and keep the book on
the bestseller list. If the rumors proved to be true, an FBI report
stated, “then the charge of fraud will be made on the awarding of
the Pulitzer Prize.” But since no one could prove the accusations,
they came to nothing.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   211

                              *    * *
EVEN WITHOUT UGLY CHARGES about the book, Jack believed that
his youth, Catholicism, limited support from party leaders, and
questionable health made him far from a sure bet for president in
1960. He was right. In fact, it was an act of unprecedented political
nerve for Kennedy to think that he could win a presidential nomina-
tion that year. Although a handful of candidates had won the White
House when they were in their late forties, no forty-three-year-old
had ever made it to the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt was forty-
two when McKinley’s assassination put him in the office, but when
he ran in 1904, he was forty-six. More important, only one Catholic
had run for president, Al Smith in 1928, and Herbert Hoover had
decisively defeated him.
    In a conversation with his father on Thanksgiving Day 1956,
Jack discussed the conditions working against his candidacy. But Joe,
with his extraordinary feel for the direction of national events, asked
Jack to remember that “this country is not a private preserve for
Protestants. There’s a whole new generation out there and it’s filled
with the sons and daughters of immigrants from all over the world
and those people are going to be mighty proud that one of their
own was running for President. And that pride will be your spur.”
    Jack did not need much persuading. His own ambition for the
highest office, his self-confidence that he could win, and his under-
standing that he already enjoyed the support of millions of Ameri-
cans (including, of course, his father, who would help finance the
campaign) made him hopeful of success. “Well, Dad,” he replied, “I
guess there’s only one question left. When do we start?”
    Jack muted any doubts about whether he was healthy enough to
bear the rigors of a campaign and the burdens of office. The daily
use of cortisone gave him confidence that his Addison’s disease
would not deter him from being president. Moreover, he did not
think that his other ailments would be an impediment to serving in
the office. In 1960, he told Kenny O’Donnell, “I’m forty-three years
old, and I’m the healthiest candidate for President in the United
States. You’ve traveled with me enough to know that. I’m not going
to die in office.”
    Yet however confident Kennedy was about taking on the job, he
understood that public knowledge of his many chronic health prob-
lems would likely sink his candidacy. Consequently, the state of his
health was a closely guarded secret. Apparently, only Jackie, Bobby,
                   212   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

Joe, and Jack’s several doctors knew the full extent of his difficulties.
Evelyn Lincoln was responsible for ensuring that Jack took his med-
ications on schedule, but it is doubtful that she had a substantial
knowledge of why he needed them. The medical records collected by
his physician Janet Travell show that Kennedy’s health was even
more problematic than previously understood. Between May 1955
and October 1957, while he was launching his vice presidential and
presidential bids, he was secretly hospitalized nine times for a total
of forty-four days, including two weeklong stays and one nineteen-
day stretch.
     All these confinements were at New York Hospital except for
one day in July 1955 at New England Baptist. Terrible back pain trig-
gered a weeklong hospitalization beginning May 26, 1955. A general
workup noted continuing back miseries with a chronic abscess at the
site of his 1954–55 surgeries; repeated bouts of colitis with abdomi-
nal pain, diarrhea, and dehydration; and prostatitis marked by pain
when urinating and ejaculating as well as urinary tract infections.
On July 3, he spent one day at New England Baptist being treated for
severe diarrhea caused by colitis. Eleven days later, he entered New
York Hospital for a week to relieve his back pain and treat another
attack of diarrhea. After six relatively healthy months, on January 11,
he returned for three days to New York Hospital, where he received
large doses of antibiotics to counter respiratory and urinary tract
infections. To learn more about his prostate troubles, his doctors
performed a cystoscopy under anesthesia. When nausea, vomiting,
dehydration, and continuing urinary discomfort occurred at the end
of the month, he spent two more days in the hospital. Another six-
month respite ended on July 18, when he spent forty-eight hours at
New York Hospital for abdominal cramps. Fevers of unknown
origin, severe abdominal discomfort, weight loss, throat and urinary
infections, a recurrence of his back abscess (which was surgically
drained), and his all-too-familiar acute back pain and spasms re-
sulted in three hospitalizations for a total of twenty-two miserable
days in September and October.
     During 1955, Kennedy had consulted Travell, a neurologist,
about the muscle spasms in his lower left back that radiated to his
left leg and made him unable to “put weight on it without intense
pain.” He asked her repeatedly about the origins of his back
troubles, but she found it impossible “to reconstruct by hindsight
what might have happened to him over the years.” It was clear to
                     An Unfinished Life    #   213

her, however, that Kennedy “resented” the back surgeries, which had
given him no relief and “seemed to only make him worse.” He
might have done better, of course, to blame the physicians who had
prescribed the steroids that weakened his bones, but he had no idea
that this was the root of his back problems.
     The medical records from this time describe Kennedy as having
zero flexion and extension of his back, with difficulty reaching his
left foot to pull up a sock, turn over in bed, or sit in a low chair. He
also had problems bending his right knee and could raise his left leg
to only 25 percent of what was considered normal. There was “ex-
quisite tenderness” in his back, and he was suffering from arthritis.
     The treatments for his various ailments included oral and im-
planted cortisone for the Addison’s and massive doses of penicillin
and other antibiotics to combat the prostatitis and abscess. He also
received anesthetic injections of procaine at trigger points to relieve
back pain, antispasmodics — principally, Lomotil and trasentine —
to control the colitis, testosterone to bulk him up or keep up
his weight (which fell with each bout of colitis and diarrhea), and
Nembutal to help him sleep. He had terribly elevated cholesterol —
410, in one testing — apparently caused by the testosterone, which
also may have heightened his libido and added to his stomach and
prostate problems.
     Kennedy’s collective health problems were not enough to deter
him from running. Though they were an inconvenience, none of
them was life-threatening. Nor did he believe that the many medi-
cations he took would reduce his ability to work effectively; on the
contrary, he saw them as ensuring his competence to deal with the
day-to-day rigors of public responsibility. And apparently none of
his many doctors — the endocrinologists, neurologists, surgeons,
gastroenterologists, or urologists — told him that were he elevated
to the presidency, his health problems (or the treatments for them)
could pose a danger to the country.
     Seeing no compelling reason to stand aside, by the end of 1956
Kennedy had begun campaigning for the Democratic nomination.
After the defeat in Chicago, Jack told Kenny O’Donnell and Dave
Powers, “I’ve learned that you don’t get far in politics until you
become a total politician. That means you’ve got to deal with the
party leaders as well as the voters. From now on, I’m going to
be a total politician.” This meant courting all possible factions.
After the 1956 convention, where Democratic members of Congress
                   214   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

publicly complained that Kennedy’s voting record or erratic support
of party positions made him a liability in a national campaign, Jack
privately wrote Democratic leaders to “set the record straight.” He
had “actively opposed” Taft-Hartley, he claimed, and had supported
Truman’s veto. He had opposed legislation giving the Atomic Energy
Commission the authority to make contracts with private companies
to replace public power generated by the T VA. True, on farm legisla-
tion he had opposed guaranteed government payments providing a
kind of welfare for all farm families. However, he pointed out, he
was “the only New England Senator to support the [Senator Hubert]
Humphrey amendment, which would have provided ‘payments’ for
small family farmers, flexible support for medium-sized farmers and
no aid to wealthy farmers. . . . In view of the very vigorous opposi-
tion of New England farmers to the entire farm program,” he told
Missouri representative Leonor Sullivan, “I believe I have gone more
than halfway in recognizing the needs in other sections of the coun-
try.” And in the fall of 1956, when some Mississippi newspapers
reported that an “ ‘anti-Southern’ attitude and legislative record” had
made southern support of Jack’s vice presidential candidacy unwise,
he wrote the state’s governor to convince him otherwise; he had
“never been ‘anti-Southern’ in any sense of the word,” he told James
Coleman. Although he acknowledged that his support of Massachu-
setts’ interests sometimes clashed with those of Mississippi, he had
principally devoted himself to the national interest and looked for-
ward to serving the needs of both their regions in the future.

BUT WINNING SOUTHERN SUPPORT for the 1960 nomination was
much more complicated than writing a letter. Since 1955 the Demo-
crats had been in control of the Senate, where Lyndon Johnson had
become majority leader and Mississippi’s James Eastland chaired the
Judiciary Committee, which had blocked civil rights legislation from
reaching the floor. In 1957, it was clear to congressional leaders,
including Johnson and other southerners, that pressure from south-
ern blacks led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC), coupled with Supreme Court deci-
sions mandating desegregation of public schools and integration of
the Columbia, South Carolina, and Montgomery, Alabama, munici-
pal bus systems, made changes in race relations across the South
inevitable, including possible passage of a civil rights law. The only
question was how fast and far-reaching these changes would be.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   215

Johnson, who was also planning on running for president, under-
stood that he could never win the White House unless he estab-
lished himself as a national leader supportive of reforms giving
African Americans full constitutional rights. James Rowe, LBJ’s old
New Deal friend, urged him to lead a civil rights bill through Con-
gress that would give him “all the credit for . . . a compromise . . .
with the emphasis in the South on compromise, and emphasis in
the North on getting a bill.”
     Both Johnson and Kennedy saw such a political strategy as the
best way to advance their presidential ambitions. For his part, Jack’s
interest in civil rights was more political than moral. The only blacks
he knew were chauffeurs, valets, or domestics, with whom he had
minimal contact. He was not insensitive to the human and legal
abuses of segregation, but as Sorensen wrote later, in the fifties he was
“shaped primarily by political expedience instead of basic human
principles.” He could not empathize, and only faintly sympathize,
with the pains felt by African Americans. He did not even consider
an aggressive challenge to deeply ingrained southern racial attitudes,
and he was far from alone. No one could imagine southerners again
rising up in armed rebellion, but threats to the traditional mores
seemed certain to provoke enough rage to discourage most white
Americans from wanting to combat southern racism. Unlike Hubert
Humphrey, another rival for the White House, who had a long-
standing, visceral commitment to ending segregation, or even LBJ,
whose political actions masked a sincere opposition to segregation,
Jack Kennedy’s response to the great civil rights debates of 1957–60
was largely motivated by self-serving political considerations.
     In 1956–57, Jack mapped out a strategy for accommodating
all factions of the Democratic party on civil rights, including black
voters, who were seen in the late fifties as holding “the balance of
power in the big states where elections are won or lost.” Yet his con-
cern with political expediency sometimes resulted in contradictions
and tangles. During an October 1956 Meet the Press interview, when
the host asked Jack why African American voters should want to see
Democratic congressional majorities, which would lead in turn to
southern committee chairmen blocking civil rights legislation, Jack
replied that Congress could bypass an obstructionist committee and
that his party’s record of favoring economic and social reforms bene-
ficial to low-income Americans gave it a claim on black voters. But
in 1957, when a civil rights bill came to the Senate from the House,
                   216    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Jack opposed bypassing the Judiciary Committee, where Eastland
was certain to table it. Jack said his opposition to invoking Rule
XIV, a little-used device for bringing a bill directly to the Senate
floor, rested on the belief that this was a “highly questionable legis-
lative course” that would give up “one of our maximum protections”
against arbitrary action. It was a “dangerous precedent,” he told
NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins, “which can be used against
our causes and other liberal issues in the future.” Instead, he favored
the conventional but more difficult use of a discharge petition to
bring the bill to the Senate floor. Knowing that civil rights advocates
would win the discharge petition fight, which they did by a 45–39
vote, Jack felt free to side with the southerners. And because four lib-
eral western Democrats joined the minority (trading their votes for
southern support of the Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River in
Idaho, a controversial public power project), it gave Jack some cover
with liberals.
     Not surprisingly, civil rights proponents began attacking Ken-
nedy for having sided with the South. In response, he leapt into a
Senate debate about Titles III and IV of the House bill, which gave
the attorney general broad powers. Southerners complained that
the Title III provision would allow “the reimposition of post–Civil
War Reconstruction,” specifically military intervention to enforce
school desegregation. They also objected to Title IV, which sanc-
tioned trials by federal judges without juries to punish defiance of
the law. Aware that Title III was too radical to win a Senate majority,
Jack felt free to favor it publicly. Thus, when a southern-moderate
coalition eliminated the provision by a vote of 52–38, Jack reestab-
lished his credibility with liberals while losing little ground with
southern conservatives, who read his vote as a bow to northern
interests essential to his political future — again, hardly a profile in
political courage.
     Elimination of Title III turned the bill into a voting rights act,
and the issue that now divided supporters and opponents was
whether violators of someone’s right to vote should be entitled to a
jury trial. Advocates of the bill had no confidence that southern
white juries would convict registrars barring blacks from the polls. In
order to assuage liberals, Johnson agreed to omit jury trials in civil
contempt cases while insisting that it apply to criminal proceedings.
He also agreed to an amendment guaranteeing “the right of all Amer-
icans to serve on [federal] juries, regardless of race, creed, or color.”
                     An Unfinished Life    #   217

     The battle over the jury trial amendment drew considerable
attention and put Jack in a difficult position. Only after consulting
several legal experts and the addition of the amendment promising
interracial juries did Jack declare his support of jury trials, which he
saw as the only way to enact the civil rights bill: A vote against jury
trials, he said, would have provoked a filibuster that would have
been “impossible” to defeat with cloture (the two-thirds vote needed
for ending a filibuster). A majority of his Senate colleagues, who
approved the jury trial amendment by a vote of 51–42, agreed.
     Not surprisingly, enactment of the law brought an outpouring of
criticism from civil rights advocates. The bill was a “mere fakery,” a
policeman’s gun without bullets, and “like soup made from the
shadow of a crow which had starved to death.” They were right: two
years later, not a single southern black had been added to the voting
rolls and nothing had been accomplished for other civil rights. Yet
some civil rights proponents saw reason for optimism. The law
marked the first time since Reconstruction that Congress had acted
to protect civil rights. Bayard Rustin saw the measure as establishing
“a very important precedent.” And George Reedy, LBJ’s Senate aide,
said the act was “a watershed. . . . A major branch of the American
government that had been closed to minority members of the popu-
lation seeking redress for wrongs was suddenly open. The civil rights
battle could now be fought out legislatively in an arena that previ-
ously had provided nothing but a sounding board for speeches.”
     Kennedy himself received a lot of criticism. (“Why not show a
little less profile and a little more courage?” one Senate colleague
asked.) Although his vote allowed him, in the view of one journalist,
to maintain a “stout” bridge to the South and border states, it
opened him to additional attacks from liberals. Roy Wilkins publicly
berated Jack for “rubbing political elbows” with southern segrega-
tionists, and in private exchanges initiated by Jack, he continued to
criticize him for his jury trial vote. Jack told Wilkins that he could
not understand why he was being singled out from the nearly three
dozen non-southerner senators who voted for jury trials. The answer
was simple and could hardly have escaped Jack’s notice: None of the
others was running for president, and given Kennedy’s southern ties,
no black leader had much confidence that a Kennedy presidency
would produce significant advances against segregation.
     To Jack’s satisfaction, events in September muted the criticism.
When Arkansas governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard to
                   218   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

prevent integration of Little Rock’s Central High School and Eisen-
hower had to federalize the Arkansas Guard to keep the peace and
enforce Court injunctions, it made Johnson and Kennedy seem like
sensible moderates trying to advance equal treatment of blacks and
national harmony through the rule of law. Jack reinforced his image
as a centrist during a speaking engagement in Mississippi in Octo-
ber. At the end of a speech urging moderation and national unity, he
responded to a query published in the press from the state Republi-
can chairman about Kennedy’s vote for Title III. Jack said, “I think
most of us agree on the necessity to uphold law and order in every
part of the land. Now I invite the Republican chairman to tell us his
views and those of President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon.”
The audience cheered him.

IN DECEMBER 1956, Bobby Kennedy, who was serving as counsel
for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, agreed to
look into labor racketeering, particularly among the Teamsters. Dur-
ing the family’s Christmas get-together in Hyannis Port, Joe attacked
Bobby for jeopardizing Jack’s labor support in 1960. The “father and
son had an unprecedentedly furious argument.” But Bobby would
not budge. And after Joe’s urging, William O. Douglas failed to dis-
suade Bobby as well, telling his wife that Bobby “feels it is too great
an opportunity.”
     For Bobby, an intensely moralistic man with an “exacting sense
of individual responsibility,” the investigation was a chance to elimi-
nate some of the rampant corruption that had taken hold in unions.
No small part of his commitment was to the rank and file being
cheated and abused by crooked and violent labor bosses. But these
noble ends might produce restrictive legislation that could turn
unions against his brother. “If the investigation flops,” Bobby told
Kenny O’Donnell, “it will hurt Jack in 1958 and in 1960, too. . . . A
lot of people think he’s the Kennedy running the investigation, not
me. As far as the public is concerned, one Kennedy is the same as
another Kennedy.”
     Yet Jack’s vulnerability came more from his own doing than
from anything Bobby did. Lyndon Johnson, Bobby recalled, had
warned Jack against taking on labor if he was serious about running
in 1960. But Jack decided to accept assignment as a member of the
joint investigations and labor subcommittee probing the unions.
Jack claimed he did so at his brother’s urging, to preserve its balance
                     An Unfinished Life    #   219

between conservatives and moderates — hardly a compelling reason
to risk his chances in 1960.
     Yet Jack and Bobby believed that their involvement in the inves-
tigation promised greater political gains than losses. They were right.
For one, it would keep Jack’s name before the public and, regardless
of the outcome, identify him with a good cause. The Kennedys also
remembered that Senate committee investigations of war profiteer-
ing and organized crime had made Harry Truman and Estes Kefau-
ver, respectively, nationally known political figures. Moreover, in the
1950s, labor unions, which were identified with unsavory characters
such as Dave Beck and Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters, were an invit-
ing target for an aspiring politician. Indeed, the contrast between
Jack and Bobby on one side and Beck and Hoffa on the other was a
political bonanza. When Beck was convicted of stealing almost
$500,000 from union coffers, including money taken “from a trust
fund set up for a friend’s widow,” the Kennedys were in turn identi-
fied with union honesty. Hoffa, who escaped going to jail in the
fifties, was a more elusive target. But his public image as a ruthless
bully more interested in maintaining control than in representing
rank-and-file opinion made him a perfect foil for Jack and Bobby.
(In the summer of 1959, a seven-part series in the Saturday Evening
Post, “The Struggle to Get Hoffa,” burnished Jack’s and Bobby’s image
as union reformers.) Even if the unions saw themselves as injured by
an investigation Jack supported, he was able to win wider public
approval as a senator who, like the heroes of his book, put the coun-
try above personal political gain. The brothers had correctly per-
ceived that LBJ’s advice was largely self-serving. As a rival for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, Johnson was less con-
cerned with protecting Jack from losing labor support than with
deterring him from being identified as a successful union critic.
     The prospect of enacting a Kennedy labor reform bill also drew
Jack and Bobby to the controversy. After five years in the Senate, Jack
had not attached his name to any major piece of legislation. But par-
tisan politics blunted Jack and Bobby’s efforts to advance labor
reform. In March 1958, after months of hearings by the McClellan
Committee and extensive consultations with leading university ex-
perts on labor relations, Jack introduced a bill to prevent the expen-
diture of union dues for improper purposes or private gain; to forbid
loans from union funds for illicit transactions; and to compel audits
of unions, which would ensure against false financial reports. Initially,
                   220   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, objected to the bill as
singling out unions for regulations that could also be applied to gov-
ernment officials and corporate chiefs. (When Jack gave Meany the
names of the experts who had helped him draft the legislation,
Meany replied, “God save us from our friends.”) Amendments to
the legislation and public assurances from Jack that he wished to
strengthen unions largely eliminated differences with Meany, but the
bill failed anyway. Opposed by the National Association of Manu-
facturers and Eisenhower’s labor secretary, James P. Mitchell, as too
pro-labor, and the Teamsters and United Mine Workers as too dra-
conian, Kennedy-Ives (Jack’s New York Republican cosponsor) passed
the Senate but was shelved in the House. “Jimmy Hoffa can rejoice
at his continued good luck,” Kennedy announced. “Honest union
members and the general public can only regard it as a tragedy that
politics has prevented the recommendations of the McClellan com-
mittee from being carried out this year.”
     Although another Kennedy labor bill would win Senate approval
in 1959, the Senate decision to instead agree on the House’s more
restrictive Landrum-Griffin Act deprived Kennedy of any significant
political gain in the labor wars. More disappointing, Bobby and Jack
found “appalling public apathy” generating “the merest lip-service”
to reform. Yet Jack’s image as an honest crusader had been pro-
moted. But even if the public agreed with the Kennedys, when it
came to promoting actual legislation, the eyes of the voters glazed
over. They paid more attention in 1960, however, when Bobby pub-
lished The Enemy Within, describing the Kennedy crusade to over-
come union corruption and break up the Mafia or Italian crime
families Bobby had also investigated in 1958–59.

OF COURSE, JACK had never seen intervention in domestic issues as
the primary means of advancing his presidential ambitions. On the
contrary, they were a political minefield in which a presidential aspi-
rant could alienate more voters than he might attract. Although
promises of prosperity had been an essential ingredient of every suc-
cessful twentieth-century presidential campaign, national security
often ran a close second, and in 1952 and 1956 it commanded more
voter attention than the economy.
    Standing up for the nation, rather than self-serving factions,
and arguing in favor of overseas actions that could affect the lives
of all Americans and millions of others abroad appealed to Jack’s
                      An Unfinished Life     #   221

idealism. He was not dogmatic and understood that no one had a
monopoly of wisdom on the best means for dealing with external
events. But he had a degree of self-confidence about foreign affairs
that he rarely displayed in addressing domestic ones. Back in 1953,
he had asked Ted Sorensen which cabinet posts would interest him
most if he ever had a choice. “Justice, Labor and Health-Education-
Welfare,” Sorensen replied. “I wouldn’t have any interest in any
of those,” Kennedy said emphatically, “only Secretary of State or
    A focus on foreign policy also helped Jack refute assertions that
his interest in the presidency was largely inspired by his father. Dur-
ing a 1953 meeting of Joe and Jack with some Hearst editors, Joe
dominated the conversation with pronouncements on how to meet
Cold War challenges. Jack abruptly left the room. “Jesus, Jack, what’s
happening?” his friend Paul Fay, who followed him into another
room, asked. “Why did you do that?” Jack responded, “Listen, I’ve
only got three choices. I can sit there and keep my mouth shut,
which will be taken as a sign that I agree with him. I can have a fight
with him in front of the press. Or I can get up and leave.” In 1960,
he told a journalist, “My father is conservative. We disagree on many
things. He’s an isolationist and I’m an internationalist. . . . I’ve given
up arguing with him. But I make up my own mind and my own
    Jack’s appointment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
in January 1957 helped his standing as a party spokesman on for-
eign affairs. To join the committee, Kennedy needed Johnson’s sup-
port. Jack’s rival for the assignment was Kefauver, whose four-year
seniority to Jack gave him a stronger claim. But “I have never had the
particular feeling that when I called up my first team and the chips
were down that Kefauver felt he ought to be . . . on that team,” LBJ
bluntly told Kefauver in January 1955. In contrast, Jack had been
cooperative with Lyndon during his four years in the Senate and had
been rewarded with Johnson’s support for the VP nomination. And
appointing Jack to Foreign Relations meant that if Jack’s presidential
campaign faltered, Lyndon could count on Joe and Jack for their
support. According to LBJ, Joe “bombarded me with phone calls,
presents and little notes telling me what a great guy I was. . . . One
day he came right out and pleaded with me to put Jack on the For-
eign Relations Committee, telling me that if I did, he’d never forget
the favor for the rest of his life. Now, I knew Kefauver wanted the
                   222   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

seat bad and I knew he had four years’ seniority on Kennedy. . . . But
I kept picturing old Joe Kennedy sitting there with all that power and
wealth feeling indebted to me for the rest of his life, and I sure liked
that picture.”
     Jack used his committee membership to encourage public dis-
cussion of wiser overseas actions and to build his reputation as a for-
eign policy expert. He had no illusion that anything he said would
necessarily alter America’s response to the world or reach great num-
bers of voters. But he believed it useful to speak out anyway: A
national debate on foreign policy was essential in the midst of the
Cold War, and his contribution to such a discussion could encour-
age intellectuals and party leaders to take his presidential candidacy
more seriously.
     An Algerian crisis — the struggle of a French North African
colony to gain independence — became an opportunity for Ken-
nedy to restate anticolonial ideas voiced in 1954 over Vietnam. “The
most powerful single force in the world today,” he declared in a Sen-
ate speech in July 1957, “is neither communism nor capitalism,
neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile — it is man’s eternal
desire to be free and independent.” And “the single most important
test of American foreign policy today is how we meet the challenge
of imperialism. . . . On this test more than any other, this Nation
shall be critically judged by the uncommitted millions in Asia and
Africa.” Neither foreign aid nor a greater military arsenal nor “new
pacts or doctrines or high-level conferences” could substitute for
an effective response to anticolonialism. More specifically, he urged
U.S. backing for Algerian self-determination through a mediated
settlement. If, however, the French refused to negotiate, he favored
outright U.S. support of independence.
     Kennedy’s bold proposal did not sit well with either the French
government or the Eisenhower administration, which disputed the
wisdom of his recommendations. And though he responded to his
critics by restating his firm belief in his proposal, he told his father
that perhaps he had made a mistake. Joe assured him otherwise:
“You lucky mush,” Joe said. “You don’t know it and neither does
anyone else, but within a few months everyone is going to know just
how right you were on Algeria.”
     Taking heart from his father’s prediction, Jack restated the need
to rethink American foreign policy in an article in the October 1957
issue of Foreign Affairs. “A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy” left no
                     An Unfinished Life    #   223

doubt that he was offering a partisan alternative to Republican
thinking about world politics. Nevertheless, the article was more an
exercise in analysis than a polemical attack. Kennedy began by urg-
ing that America not see the world strictly through “the prisms of
our own historic experience.” The country needed to understand
that we lived not simply in a bipolar world of Soviet-American
rivalry but a global environment in which smaller powers were
charting an independent course. America needed not only to oppose
communism but also to help emerging nations regardless of their
attitude toward the Cold War.
     Kennedy described “two central weaknesses in our current for-
eign policy: first, a failure to appreciate how the forces of national-
ism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world . . . and second,
a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership . . . which seeks
too often to substitute slogans for solutions.” Jack’s proposals for
change, however, suffered from some of the same limitations as
Eisenhower’s. He urged policy makers to replace “apocalyptic solu-
tions” with something he called “a new realism,” which was to sub-
stitute economic aid for military exports and to work against “the
prolongation of Western colonialism.” But how? The “new realism”
was as much a political slogan as a genuine departure from current
thinking about overseas affairs
     In private, Jack was also critical of his Democratic colleagues.
Early in 1958, he told economist John Kenneth Galbraith that “the
Democratic party has tended to magnify the military challenge to
the point where equally legitimate economic and political programs
have been obscured. . . . It is clear also that, however tempting a tar-
get, the attacks on Mr. Dulles [for brinksmanship and insensitivity to
the Third World] have been taken too often as a sum total of an
alternative foreign policy — a new kind of devil theory of failure.”
To counter this, he stated his intention “to give special attention this
year to developing some new policy toward the underdeveloped
     Yet at the same time as he was discussing alternative Cold War
actions, Kennedy could not ignore the military competition with
Moscow. Fears that the Soviet Union was surpassing the United
States in missile technology and would soon be able to deliver a
devastating attack on North America made defense policy a center-
piece of all discussions on foreign affairs. In October 1957, the Sovi-
ets successfully launched Sputnik I, a space satellite that orbited the
                   224   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

earth. The accomplishment shocked Americans and produced an
outcry for a vast expansion of U.S. defense spending. A government-
sponsored committee headed by H. Rowan Gaither, chairman of the
board of the Ford Foundation, advised Eisenhower that American
defenses against Moscow were inadequate, that there was a missile
gap favoring the Soviets, and that unless the United States began an
immediate buildup, it would face defeat in a nuclear war. Three
members of Gaither’s committee urged a preventive war before it
was too late.
     Like Eisenhower, who refused to give in to the country’s over-
reaction and launch an arms race, Kennedy urged a balance among
military strength, economic aid, and considered diplomacy. In a
New York Times interview in December 1957, he warned against
neglecting economic aid programs and disarmament talks in a rush
to outdo the Soviet arms buildup. In June 1958, he spoke on the
Senate floor against shifting control over foreign economic assis-
tance from the State Department to the Defense Department. He
feared weakening the power of the secretary of state and a greater
militarization of the Cold War.
     Yet the opportunity to take political advantage of what seemed
like a major failing on the part of the Eisenhower administration
was irresistible. In August 1958, Jack spoke in the Senate about a
fast-approaching “dangerous period” when we would suffer a “gap”
or a “missile-lag period” — a time “in which our own offensive and
defensive missile capabilities will lag so far behind those of the
Soviets as to place us in a position of grave peril.” The gap was the
result of a “complacency” that put “fiscal security ahead of national
     By criticizing White House defense policy, Jack hoped both to
serve the nation’s security and score political points. But although
his speech enhanced his party standing as a serious analyst of for-
eign and defense issues, it added little to his hold on the public
and did nothing to convince the administration that it needed to
substantially alter defense planning. Only a small minority of Amer-
icans shared his fears of a missile gap: in October 1957, just 13 per-
cent of a Gallup poll thought that defense preparedness or Sputnik
“missiles” was the most important problem facing the country.
People were instead far more concerned about racial segregation and
finding ways to reach accommodations with Russia that could
reduce the likelihood of a nuclear war.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   225

    But Jack’s growing public appeal — and it was clearly growing —
rested on more than his policy pronouncements. During 1957–58
he became emblematic of a new breed of celebrity politician, as
notable for his good looks, infectious smile, charm, and wit as for
his thoughtful pronouncements on weighty public questions. “Sel-
dom in the annals of this political capital,” one journalist noted in
May 1957, “has anyone risen as rapidly as Senator John F. Kennedy.”
Popular and news magazines — Look, Time, Life, the Saturday Evening
Post, McCall’s, Redbook, U.S. News & World Report, Parade, the Ameri-
can Mercury, and the Catholic Digest — regularly published feature
stories about Jack and his extraordinary family. (“Senator Kennedy,
do you have an ‘in’ with Life,” a high school newspaper editor asked
him. “No,” he replied, “I just have a beautiful wife.”) One critical
journalist wrote: “This man seeks the highest elective office in the
world not primarily as a politician, but as a celebrity. He’s the only
politician a woman would read about while sitting under the hair
dryer, the subject of more human-interest articles than all his rivals
combined.” But in the words of another, he had become the “perfect
politician” with a beautiful wife and, in November 1957, a daughter,
Caroline Bouvier Kennedy.
    By the fall of 1959, Joe Kennedy was able to tell reporters that
“Jack is the greatest attraction in the country today. I’ll tell you how
to sell more copies of a book. Put his picture on the cover. Why is it
that when his picture is on the cover of Life or Redbook that they sell
a record number of copies? You advertise that he will be at a dinner
and you will break all records for attendance. He can draw more
people to a fund-raising dinner than Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
Why is that? He has more universal appeal.”
    Jack’s 1958 Senate reelection campaign had borne out his
extraordinary political attractiveness. With no Republican of any
stature willing to run against him, Jack was able to coast to a record-
breaking victory. Despite a campaign designed by Larry O’Brien and
Kenny O’Donnell to keep Jack’s “direct and personal participation to
an absolute minimum,” he won 874,608 votes out of 1.32 million
cast, 73.6 percent, the largest popular margin ever received by a can-
didate in Massachusetts and the second-largest margin tallied by any
U.S. Senate candidate that year. The numbers seemed to support the
predictions of Kennedy admirers that the country was witnessing
“the flowering of another great political family, such as the Adamses,
the Lodges, and the La Follettes.” “They confidently look forward to
                   226   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

the day,” a friendly journalist wrote months before Kennedy’s 1958
victory, “when Jack will be in the White House, Bobby will serve in
the Cabinet as Attorney General, and Teddy will be the Senator from

JACK’S SIX YEARS in the Senate had schooled him in the major
domestic, defense, and foreign policy issues. His education was
essential preparation for a presidential campaign and, more impor-
tant, service in the White House. To be sure, his Senate career had
produced no major legislation that contributed substantially to the
national well-being. But it had strengthened his resolve to reach for
executive powers that promised greater freedom to implement ideas
that could improve the state of the world. In a 1960 tape recording,
explaining why he was running for president, he stated that the life
of a legislator was much less satisfying than that of a chief executive.
Senators and congressmen could work on something for two years
and have it turned aside by a president in one day and one stroke of
the pen. Jack believed that effective leadership came largely from the
top. Being president provided opportunities to make a difference no
senator could ever hope to achieve. The time had come.

     Can a Catholic
     Become President?
     I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the
     Democratic party’s candidate for President, who happens
     also to be a Catholic.
       — John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1960

        No, sir, th’ dimmycratic party ain’t on speakin’ terms with
        itsilf. Whin ye see two men with white neckties go into a
        sthreet car an’ set in opposite corners while wan mutthers
        “Traiter” an’ th’ other hisses “Miscreent” ye can bet they’re
        two dimmycratic leaders thryin’ to reunite th’ gran’ ol’ party.
          — Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley’s Opinions, 1901

growing national visibility since the 1956 Democratic convention
put him on everyone’s list of possible candidates for the presidency
in 1960. He was an appealing alternative to Eisenhower. Ike was
much admired, even loved, by millions of Americans, but alongside
Kennedy, the sixty-nine-year-old president, who was in declining
health and had become the oldest man ever to serve in the office,
seemed stodgy. Kennedy’s vigor (“vigah,” Jack pronounced it, in the
New England way) was seen as a potential asset in dealing with
Soviet challenges, a sluggish economy, racial divisions, and what the
literary critic Dwight Macdonald described as the “terrible shapeless-
ness of American life.”
     In 1957, more than 2,500 speaking invitations from all over the
country testified to Kennedy’s appeal. Seizing upon the opportunity
to reach influential audiences, he agreed to give 144 talks, nearly one
every other day, in 47 states. By early 1958, he was receiving a hun-
dred requests a week to speak. Some Massachusetts newspapers, eager
to boost a native son, already pegged him as the Democratic nomi-
nee. Numerous party leaders agreed. A majority of the party’s forty-
eight state chairmen described him as the likely choice, and 409
of the 1,220 delegates to the 1956 Democratic convention declared
                    230   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

their preference for Kennedy in 1960. Although Democratic gover-
nors did not foresee a first-ballot victory, they thought that Jack
would certainly lead in the early balloting.
     Kennedy backers took additional satisfaction from polls in 1959
depicting him in the most flattering terms. Even Republicans con-
ceded that he was “very smart . . . nice-looking . . . likeable . . . [and]
knowledgeable about politics.” Although some in the GOP set him
down as a “smart-alec . . . millionaire . . . headline hunter,” others
wished that he were a member of their party. Democrats had only
nice things to say about Jack, describing him with words and phrases
like “truthful,” “not afraid to express himself,” “family man,” “nice-
looking,” “vigorous,” “personable,” “intelligent,” and “level-headed.”
Some independents thought he was “too outspoken,” but the great
majority described him in extremely favorable terms. Sixty-four per-
cent of all potential voters with an opinion about Kennedy believed
that he had “the background and experience to be President.”
     Despite this widespread esteem, knowledgeable political observ-
ers, including many in the Kennedy camp, saw formidable obstacles
to Kennedy’s nomination and election. His positive image, however
useful, allowed critics to describe him as more the product of a pub-
lic relations campaign funded by his family’s fortune than the result
of political accomplishments. William Shannon, a well-known colum-
nist for the New York Post, wrote: “Month after month, from the
glossy pages of Life to the multicolored cover of Redbook, Jack and
Jackie smile out at millions of readers; he with his tousled hair and
winning smile, she with her dark eyes and beautiful face. We hear of
her pregnancy, of his wartime heroism, of their fondness for sailing.
But what has all this to do with statesmanship?” New York Times
columnist James Reston complained that “[Kennedy’s] clothes and
hair-do are a masterpiece of contrived casualness.” Reston worried
that there had been too much emphasis “on how to win the presi-
dency rather than on how to run it.” Chicago Daily News reporter
Peter Lisagor and other journalists met with Jack in 1958: They
“looked at him walking out of the room, thin, slender, almost boy-
ish really,” and one of them said, “ ‘Can you imagine that young fel-
low thinking he could be President of the United States any time
soon?’ I must say the thought occurred to me, too,” Lisagor recalled.
     Polls assessing Kennedy’s candidacy in a national campaign
echoed Lisagor’s doubts. They foresaw a close contest with Vice Pres-
ident Richard M. Nixon, whose eight years under Eisenhower gave
him a commanding lead for the Republican nomination. Moreover,
                    An Unfinished Life    #   231

a vigorous campaign for Nixon by Ike, whose approval ratings in the
next-to-last year of his presidency ranged between 57 percent and 66
percent, seemed to promise a third consecutive Republican term. But
no sitting vice president had gained the White House since Martin
Van Buren in 1836, and several straw polls matching Adlai Steven-
son and Kennedy against Nixon and New York governor Nelson
Rockefeller, or Kennedy directly against Nixon, gave the Democrats a
slight edge. Nothing in the surveys, however, suggested that Kennedy
and the Democrats could take anything for granted.
     The criticism and doubts bothered Jack, but he blunted them
with humor. At the 1958 Gridiron dinner, an annual Washington rit-
ual in which the press and politicians engaged in humorous ex-
changes, Jack poked fun at his father’s free spending in support of
his political ambitions. He had “just received the following wire
from my generous daddy,” JFK said. “ ‘Dear Jack — Don’t buy a single
vote more than is necessary — I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for
a landslide.’ ” To answer predictions that a Catholic president would
have divided loyalties, Jack promised to make Methodist bishop
G. Bromley Oxnam, an outspoken opponent of electing a Catholic,
his personal envoy to the Vatican. To counter Oxnam’s complaint
that a Catholic in the White House would be in constant touch with
the pope, Jack declared his intention to have Oxnam “open negotia-
tions for that Trans-Atlantic Tunnel immediately.” The Republicans
did not escape his barbs: A 1958 recession had moved President
Eisenhower to declare that, in Jack’s version, “we’re now at the end
of the beginning of the upturn of the downturn.” He added, “Every
bright spot the White House finds in the economy is like the police-
man bending over the body in the alley who says cheerfully, ‘Two of
his wounds are fatal — but the other one’s not so bad.’ ”
     Jack’s wit scored points with journalists but had limited im-
pact on Democratic voters and party officials, who would have the
initial say about his candidacy. In 1959, Democrats were evenly
divided between Kennedy and Stevenson. Each of them was the
choice of between 25 percent and 30 percent of party members. Less
encouraging, congressional Democrats put Kennedy fourth behind
Lyndon Johnson, Stevenson, and Missouri senator Stuart Symington
for the nomination. They thought that the forty-two-year-old Ken-
nedy was too young to be president and preferred to see him run as
vice president.
     But Jack had no patience with being second. “We’ve always
been competitive in our family,” he explained. “My father has been
                   232   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

competitive all his life, that’s how he got where he is.” When New-
ton Minow, a Stevenson law partner, told Kennedy in 1957 that he
could probably have the vice presidential nomination in 1960, Jack
said: “ ‘I’m not interested in running for vice president. I’m inter-
ested in running for president.’ ‘You’re out of your mind,’ ” Minow
replied. “ ‘You’re only thirty-nine years old, you haven’t got a chance
to run for President.’ ‘No, Newt,’ ” Jack answered, “ ‘if I’m ever going
to make it I’m going to make it in 1960.’ ” Sensible political calcula-
tions were shaping his decision. “If I don’t make it this time, and a
Democrat makes it,” he told a reporter, “then it may [be] for eight
years and there will be fresher faces coming along and I’ll get shoved
in the background.” Besides, the vice presidency was “a dead job.”
Nor did he think he could work with Stevenson, who “is a fuss-
budget about a lot of things and we might not get along.” Settling
for second place was tantamount to defeat.
     The greatest impediments to Jack’s nomination seemed to be lib-
eral antagonism and doubts that a Catholic could or should win a
general election. The two were not mutually exclusive. “Catholic-
baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals,” one conservative de-
clared. The Church frightened progressive Democrats, who regarded
it as an authoritarian institution intolerant of ideas at odds with its
teachings. Suspicion of divided Catholic loyalties between church
and state was as old as the American Republic itself, and since the
1830s, when a mass migration of Catholics to America had begun,
Protestants had warned against the Catholic threat to individual
freedoms. In May 1959, 24 percent of voters said that they would
not cast their ballots for a Catholic, even if he seemed to be well
qualified for the presidency.
     Most liberals subscribed to the view of Kennedy as an ambitious
but superficial playboy with little more to recommend him than
his good looks and charm. On none of the issues most important
to them — McCarthyism, civil rights, and labor unions — had Jack
been an outspoken advocate. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said later of
liberal antagonism to Jack, “Kennedy seemed too cool and ambi-
tious, too bored by the conditional reflexes of stereotyped liberalism,
too much a young man in a hurry. He did not respond in anticipated
ways and phrases and wore no liberal heart on his sleeve.” Joe
Kennedy’s reputation as a robber baron and prewar appeaser of Nazi
Germany also troubled liberals. And, despite numerous examples of
political divergence between father and son, they saw Jack as little
                     An Unfinished Life    #   233

more than a surrogate for Joe, whom they believed to have been
planning to buy the White House for one of his children since at
least 1940.
    Kennedy’s threat to a third Stevenson campaign was an additional
source of liberal antagonism. Liberals hoped that despite Steven-
son’s two defeats by Eisenhower, he might be able to win against
Nixon in 1960. Some journalists shared this belief. (James Reston
privately lamented “the effects upon this country of the advertising
profession, the continual deterioration of our citizens, the lulling of
their consciences, the degradation of their morals, and Adlai seems
to me to be the only one that can raise our sights. He is the only one
who speaks with the voice of a philosopher, of a poet, of a true
leader.”) Journalist Theodore White wrote that California, Illinois,
New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin “youngsters Stevenson had sum-
moned to politics with high morality in 1952 had now matured and
were unwilling in their maturity to forsake him.”
    To discourage a stop-Kennedy drive, Jack publicly denied that he
was a candidate. In 1958, he said that his campaign for reelection
to the Senate required all his attention and that he needed to “take
care of that matter before doing anything else.” When a journalist
pointed out that he was giving speeches in five western and mid-
western states in just one month, Jack explained that he was “inter-
ested in the Democratic party nationally” and was “delighted to go
where I am asked.” In 1959, a reporter asked when Jack was “going
to drop this public pretense of non-candidacy.” The time to declare
his future intentions would be in 1960, he replied.
    Early in 1958, as Jack’s presidential candidacy was gaining mo-
mentum, Eleanor Roosevelt published a magazine article in which
she repeated her complaint that he had “dodged the McCarthy issue
in 1954.” In May 1958, she made a more direct attack on Jack’s can-
didacy, telling an AP reporter that the country was ready to elect a
Catholic to the presidency if he could separate the church from the
state, but that she was “not sure Kennedy could do this.” In Decem-
ber, she stepped up her opposition to Jack in a television appear-
ance, expressing doubts about his readiness for the presidency and
noting his failure to demonstrate the kind of independence and
courage he had celebrated in his book.
    Jack avoided any public fight with her, answering her opposition
in a private letter. He challenged her to support an allegation made
during her T V appearance that his “father has been spending oodles
                   234    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

of money all over the country and probably has a paid representa-
tive in every state by now. . . . I am certain you are the victim of mis-
information,” Jack wrote, and asked her to have her “informant back
up the charge with evidence.” She replied that if her comment was
untrue, she would “gladly so state,” but she cited his father’s declara-
tion that “he would spend any money to make his son the first
Catholic President of this country, and many people as I travel about
tell me of money spent by him on your behalf.” In response, Jack
expressed disappointment that she would “accept the view that sim-
ply because a rumor or allegation is repeated it becomes commonly
accepted as a fact.” He asked her to “correct the record in a fair and
gracious manner.” When she published a newspaper column quot-
ing Jack’s letter, he pressed her for a fuller retraction. When she
agreed to write another column if Kennedy insisted, Jack told her
not to bother, saying, “We can let it stand for the present.” Jack’s sug-
gestion that they “get together sometime in the future to discuss
other matters” provoked a snide telegram: “MY DEAR BOY I ONLY

MRS. ROOSEVELT’S REPRIMAND stemmed partly from a conviction
that Jack’s denials about his father were misleading. She had no
direct evidence of Joe’s spending in his son’s behalf, but she believed
that all the rumors were more than idle gossip. And of course she
was right. Joe had financed all Jack’s campaigns, including the 1958
romp, when he spent an estimated $1.5 million to ensure the land-
slide that would help launch Jack’s presidential bid.
    As important, between 1958 and 1960, Joe became the cam-
paign’s principal behind-the-scenes operator in the nomination fight.
“You do what you think is right,” Joe told Jack after he was elected to
the Senate, “and we’ll take care of the politicians.” And anything else
that needs to be done, he might have added. When Jack wanted
prominent civil rights advocate Harris Wofford to join his campaign,
Joe pressed Father John Cavanaugh, Notre Dame University’s former
president, to get sitting president Father Theodore Hesburgh to re-
lease Wofford from teaching duties at the law school. When Wofford
told Sargent Shriver about Joe’s intervention, Shriver replied, “ ‘Don’t
ever underestimate Mr. Kennedy.’ This was the only time I personally
saw the long hand of Joe Kennedy,” Wofford wrote, “but if he would
                     An Unfinished Life    #   235

intervene so vigorously on such a small matter, I could imagine what
he was like when he dealt with Mayor Daley for delegates. ‘And that
is exactly who did deal with Daley most of the time,’ said Shriver.”
Although Jack would pay ceremonial visits to Daley, “the long,
tough talks were between the mayor and Joe Kennedy. Shriver said
this was true of the negotiations with the Philadelphia leader, Con-
gressman William Green, and with other Irish-Americans of the old
school who were in key positions in a number of city and state
Democratic organizations, including California and New York.”
    “[Joe] knew instinctively who the important people were, who
the bosses behind the scenes were,” New York congressman Eugene
Keogh said. “From 1958 on he was in contact with them constantly
by phone, presenting Jack’s case, explaining and interpreting his son,
working these bosses.” Tip O’Neill remembered that when Joe
learned that Joe Clark, a Pennsylvania state official, was the power
behind Congressman Bill Green, he flew Clark to New York for a
meeting in his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria. Joe also went to see
Pennsylvania governor David Lawrence. During a secret meeting at a
Harrisburg hotel, Joe was, as Lawrence remembers, “very vigorous.”
When Lawrence asserted that a Catholic could not win the White
House, Joe recounted a story about a New York bank president who
said the same thing. “I was so goddamn mad at that fella,” Joe added.
“I had nine million dollars in that bank and I felt like I’d pull out of
that bank that day.”
    New York party leader Mike Prendergast recalled how Joe “sent a
lot of people in to donate money to the state organization, which we
used for Jack’s election.” In July 1959, syndicated columnist Marquis
Childs asserted that Joe had already spent one million dollars on
Jack’s campaign and was the brains behind the whole operation.
Jack’s acquisition of a plane leased to him by a Kennedy family cor-
poration belied Kennedy denials that Joe had anything to do with
the campaign. Harry Truman echoed the concerns about Joe when
he told friends, “It’s not the Pope I’m afraid of, it’s the pop.” Jack
knew this was the perception, but there seemed no other route to
the presidency but along this tightrope.

THE 1958 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS had given the Democratic
party a decidedly liberal tilt. A recession producing higher unem-
ployment nationwide and farm failures in the Midwest, Republican
support of integration in the South and anti-union right-to-work
                   236   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

laws in industrial states, and the “missile gap” — fears that America
was losing the arms race to Russia — had translated into nearly two-
to-one Democratic margins in both houses; their twenty-eight-seat
gain in the Upper House was the most one-sided party victory in
Senate history. Of the fifteen new Democratic senators, five were lib-
erals and ten were moderates.
     Because liberals would thus have a major say in who became the
Democratic nominee, Jack had attempted to win Adlai Stevenson’s
support. But Stevenson was uncooperative. After 1956, he had con-
sistently denied any interest in another campaign, but when one of
his law partners privately confided his own intention to back
Kennedy, Stevenson predicted that “the Catholic issue is going to be
badly against him, and, after all, Nixon must be beaten.” The partner
took this to mean: “I want to be urged to run, and I want to be nom-
inated.” Stevenson also told Newton Minow that Kennedy was too
young and inexperienced to handle the job. Stevenson confided his
doubts to Time reporter John Steele as well, setting Jack down as too
ambitious and maybe even a little foolish, a young man reaching
too quickly for the coveted prize. He was even more blunt with the
British economist Barbara Ward Jackson. “I don’t think he’d be a
good president,” Stevenson said. “I do not feel that he’s the right
man for the job; I think he’s too young; I don’t think he fully under-
stands the dimensions of the foreign affairs dilemmas that are com-
ing up.”
     With Stevenson refusing to help, Jack explored other means of
bringing liberals to his side. In March 1958, when a T V interviewer
asked him, “Do you think that the candidate in the Democratic
party would have to be definitely associated with the liberal wing
of the party in 1960?” Jack replied, “I do.” “Do you believe that you
are in that wing?” the reporter continued. “I do,” Jack answered. “Do
you count yourself as a liberal?” the reporter persisted. “I do,” Jack
responded unequivocally.
     His answers were part of a larger campaign to convince party lib-
erals that he was one of them, or at the very least would be respon-
sive to their concerns. But he also felt that liberals were uninformed
about his record on civil liberties, civil rights, and labor. Conse-
quently, between 1957 and 1960, he publicly emphasized that he
had established his “independence from the Democratic party,” but
that this was “essentially an independence from party organization
rather than from its credo.” He believed that his votes on progressive
                      An Unfinished Life    #   237

issues compared favorably with those cast by congressional liberals.
His speeches from this period are replete with references to his sup-
port of advanced progressive ideas. Liberals nevertheless remained
reluctant to embrace him as a reasonable alternative to Stevenson,
and this frustrated and angered him, partially because he believed it
unrealistic of liberals to hope that Stevenson could be an effective
candidate. In 1960, during a conversation with Peter Lisagor, who
predicted that Stevenson would be the nominee, Kennedy “leaned
forward — I remember this so vividly,” Lisagor said. It was “almost
the only time I ever saw him angry . . . and he said, ‘Why, that’s im-
possible. Adlai Stevenson is a bitter man. He’s a bitter, deeply disillu-
sioned, deeply hurt man.’ ” As Jack told another journalist regarding
Stevenson, “People who want to be deluded are going to be deluded
no matter what they are told.” In September, after economist John
Kenneth Galbraith publicly supported Kennedy’s candidacy, Jack
wrote him, “I rather imagine your voice will be drowned out by the
antiphonal choruses of support for [California governor] Pat Brown,
[Michigan governor] Soapy Williams and [New York mayor] Bob
Wagner!” — all more acceptable liberals.
     The gulf between Kennedy and party liberals came partly from
an unbridgeable difference in perspective. New Deal–Fair Deal
Democrats thought in terms of traditional welfare state concerns —
economic security, social programs, racial equality. But as Jack told
Harris Wofford, “The key thing for the country is a new foreign pol-
icy that will break out of the confines of the cold war. Then we can
build a decent relationship with developing nations and begin to
respond to their needs. We can stop the vicious circle of the arms
race and promote diversity and peaceful change within the Soviet
bloc. We can get this country moving again on its domestic prob-
lems.” He conceded that “Stevenson may see this, but he’s a two-
time loser and has no real chance; nor has [Chester] Bowles or
Humphrey, with whom I agree even more. The most likely alterna-
tives are Johnson or Symington, but if either of them is nominated
we might as well elect Dulles or Acheson; it would be the same cold-
war foreign policy all over again.” (This was certainly prophetic
about the Johnson presidency.)
     Kennedy also gave voice to his thinking through James Mac-
Gregor Burns, who was writing Kennedy’s campaign biography, chiefly
from interviews. Kennedy’s “mixed voting record” and resistance to
being labeled as a New Dealer or a Fair Dealer made people question
                   238   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

his liberal credentials, Burns wrote in his book. But Kennedy was a
new kind of liberal, Burns asserted. Because the New Deal and the
Fair Deal had “become properly entrenched in our way of life, and
hence [were] no longer a disputed political issue,” Kennedy believed
that “liberalism must be rethought and renewed.” As for foreign pol-
icy, a series of questions Burns posed to him made it clear that
Kennedy was trying to craft fresh ways of thinking about the Cold
War. In particular, Jack cautioned against overblown hopes: “It takes
two to make peace,” he said. “I think it would be misleading to sug-
gest that there are some magic formulas hitherto untried which
would ease the relations between the free world and the communis-
tic world, or which would shift the balance of power in our favor.”
     He hoped nevertheless that “paramount” military power might
“encourage the Russians and the Chinese to say a farewell to arms,”
which could produce a competitive shift “to nonmilitary spheres.”
Kennedy then foresaw “a struggle between the two systems . . . a test
as to which system travels better, which system of political, eco-
nomic, and social organization can more effectively transform the
lives of the people in the newly emerging countries.”
     Schlesinger signed on to Kennedy’s campaign principally be-
cause he saw him as a more realistic liberal than Stevenson, and it
was Schlesinger who helped Jack find a distinctive liberal outlook.
Eager to give “his campaign identity — to distinguish his appeal
from that of his rivals and suggest that he could bring the country
something no one else could,” Kennedy seized upon a memoran-
dum Schlesinger wrote arguing that “the Eisenhower epoch, the
period of passivity and acquiescence in our national life, was draw-
ing to its natural end, and that a new time — a time of affirmation,
progressivism and forward movement — impended.”
     Schlesinger noted in his journal at the time: “This, I suppose, is
the real irony. I have come, I think, to the private conclusion that I
would rather have K as President than S. S is a much richer, more
thoughtful, more creative person; but he has been away from power
too long; he gives me an odd sense of unreality. . . . In contrast K
gives a sense of cool, measured, intelligent concern with action and
power. I feel that his administration would be less encumbered than
S’s with commitments to past ideas or sentimentalities; that he
would be more radical; and, though he is less creative personally, he
might be more so politically.”
     A lack of clear definition, however, made Kennedy’s “new” liber-
alism suspect. Indeed, the details of his domestic program sounded
                     An Unfinished Life    #   239

much like the old liberalism or little different from what progres-
sive Democrats were advocating in 1960: “comprehensive housing
legislation . . . a ten-point ‘bill of rights’ for improved living stan-
dards for older people . . . [a] bill to outlaw the bombing of homes,
churches, schools, and community centers”; antilynching and anti–
poll tax bills; a higher minimum wage; and an end to loyalty oaths.
On foreign and defense policies as well, Kennedy seemed to be
treading on familiar ground. True, he called for fresh thinking about
Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, emphasizing eco-
nomic assistance, but a focus on military strength and the “ ‘magic
power’ on our side [of ] the desire of every person to be free, of every
nation to be independent” gave little indication of just how he
might turn the Cold War in a new direction.

BECAUSE THERE WERE only sixteen state primaries, the road to the
nomination in 1960 principally involved winning over state party
leaders. Direct contacts between Jack and prominent Democrats across
the country seemed essential. Beyond wooing local party leaders,
however, no one around Kennedy at the end of 1958 had a clear con-
ception of how to proceed. O’Donnell and Powers thought the nom-
ination fight would be a larger version of Kennedy’s 1952 and 1958
Senate races. As in Massachusetts, where they had largely shunned
party chiefs, they initially thought in terms of a 1960 grass roots cam-
paign. Bobby Kennedy agreed, telling a reporter that they could not
rely on “the politicians” who controlled the big state delegations to
the convention. “We have to get organized in those states,” he said,
“and have secretaries in every major city.” The secretaries were to set
up Kennedy clubs, or “citizen organizations,” mounting a “grass roots
appeal over the party regulars.” The Republican nominations of Wen-
dell Willkie in 1940, Tom Dewey in 1944, and Eisenhower in 1952
were models of how to wrest the nomination from the “bosses.”
    By the beginning of 1959, however, as Jack, Bobby, and the rest
of the Kennedy team thought about the challenge before them, they
concluded that shunning party leaders was a prescription for defeat;
with only sixteen primaries, they would need the backing of party
“bosses” as well as rank-and-file Democrats to have any realistic
hope of being nominated. Implementing this strategy meant creat-
ing more formal organization than had existed so far. To this end,
they installed Steve Smith, who was married to Jack’s sister Jean, in a
nine-room office in the Washington, D.C., Esso building on Consti-
tution Avenue near the Capitol. Because they were eager to keep the
                   240   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

operation quiet, the building directory and office door listed only
“Stephen E. Smith.” The thirty-two-year-old Smith, the son of a
wealthy New York shipping family with some business experience,
was asked to manage four secretaries corresponding with Demo-
cratic governors and state chairmen and local and grass root sup-
porters around the country. Smith and his staff set up a card file of
backers and potential allies and rated their loyalty on a one-to-ten
scale. Detailed wall maps identifying areas of strength and weakness
across the country gave the operation, which took the form of letters
and telephone calls to any and all likely convention delegates, the
feel of a military campaign.
     But even with the Smith office in place, more questions than
answers remained about winning the nomination. On April 1, Jack,
Joe, and Bobby met at Joe’s house in Palm Beach with Smith, poll-
ster Lou Harris, and Jack’s Senate staff: O’Brien, O’Donnell, and
Sorensen. They reviewed each state in detail, asking: “Where do we
stand?” Who are the “key figures” that will “influence the delega-
tion? . . . Should JFK be scheduled there this fall or earlier? Should
Bobby be scheduled to speak there this spring or summer? Should a
poll be taken — and when?” Which state primaries should they
enter? “What kind of organization do we need within the state?
Should we be lining up our own delegate slate?”
     Although Smith’s office and the April meeting provided no
definitive answers to their questions, by the fall the campaign
had made some significant gains. In October, when Gallup asked
1,454 Democratic county chairmen, “Regardless of whom you per-
sonally prefer, what is your best guess . . . as to who will get the
Democratic nomination for President in 1960?” 32 percent chose
Kennedy, 27 percent said Symington, 18 percent picked Stevenson,
9 percent selected Johnson, and 3 percent named Humphrey; 11 per-
cent refused to say.

IF JACK COULD begin to feel somewhat optimistic about his chances
for the nomination, he was discouraged by Gallup’s finding that 61
percent of Democratic and Republican county chairmen thought
that Nixon would beat Kennedy in the 1960 campaign; only 34 per-
cent thought that Jack could defeat someone as well-known and
experienced in national politics as the vice president. Fifty-five per-
cent of the county chairmen believed that New York governor Nel-
son Rockefeller could also beat Kennedy. These surveys were in sharp
                     An Unfinished Life    #   241

contrast to polls showing Democrats favored over Republicans in the
1960 congressional elections by 57 to 43 percent and on party regis-
tration by 55 to 37 percent.
     The disappointing numbers underscored the need for Kennedy
to launch an all-out campaign that demonstrated his national appeal
to voters. And so by the autumn of 1959, despite still not having
announced his candidacy, he had settled into an exhausting routine
that took him to every part of the country. In October and Novem-
ber, he spent four days in Indiana, one day each in West Virginia,
New York, and Nebraska, two days in Louisiana, made a stopover in
Milwaukee on the way to Oregon, flew back to New York, followed
by three- and four-day stays in Illinois, California, and Oregon, and
briefer visits to Oklahoma, Delaware, Kansas, and Colorado. He
addressed audiences of every size on street corners, at airports, on
fairgrounds, and in theaters, armories, high schools, state capitols,
restaurants, gambling casinos, hotels, and pool, union, lodge, and
convention halls. The groups he addressed were as varied as the ven-
ues — farmers, labor unions, chambers of commerce, bar associations,
ethnic societies, state legislatures, college and university students
and faculties, and civic organizations.
     As he traveled, he learned how to pace his talks and strike
responsive chords with audiences. When Katie Louchheim, the vice
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, heard him speak
at a party meeting in July 1959, she described him as “certainly bril-
liant, his choice of topics, words, his fluency, all excellent. But his
delivery took the cream off his own milk. He fairly rushes along,
almost breathless, and his smiles are merely indicated, not given.” It
was a familiar and long-standing criticism of Kennedy’s public
speaking, and during the fall tour he made conscious efforts to
improve. “I’m getting a lot better on speeches,” he told an inter-
viewer, concluding that “at least now I’ve got a control over the sub-
ject matter and a confidence so that I can speak more and more off
the cuff, and I know that the off the cuff is much better than the pre-
pared speech. Perhaps when I get enough control, I can have more
confidence about making them less declaratory and more emo-
tional.” He also improved his technique of working a crowd. During
this time, Sorensen wrote later, “he learned the art of swiftly getting
down from the speaker’s stand into a crowd for handshaking instead
of being trapped by a few eager voters behind the head table.” In
short, he was becoming a master campaigner.
                  242   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     But it was difficult, sometimes demoralizing work carried out
despite continuing back pain and spasm, which he eased with early-
morning and late-night hot baths. A journalist who followed him
around said, “The tone was tiredness, drained tiredness of one hotel
room after another hotel room,” nonstop speech-making, “people
pulling you this way and that . . . smiling and smiling until your
mouth is so dehydrated it doesn’t seem to belong to you any
more . . . more hands than you can shake, more names than you can
remember, [and] more promises than you can keep.” Through it all,
Jack could never escape the thought that it might be in vain — a
marathon run that tested the limits of his physical and psychological
resilience and then ended in possible defeat. He countered such
thoughts by remembering the potential payoff. There seemed no
other justification imaginable.
     To improve Jack’s chances of winning, Bobby gave up his Senate
staff job to become campaign manager. He immediately convened a
meeting of seventeen principal people at his house in Hyannis Port
at the end of October. Bobby was all business. “Jack,” he said in a
staccato voice, “what has been done about the campaign, what plan-
ning has been done?” Before Jack could answer, Bobby asked: “Jack,
how do you expect to run a successful campaign if you don’t get
started? A day lost now can’t be picked up at the other end. It’s
ridiculous that more work hasn’t been done already.” Jack, mimick-
ing his brother’s delivery, said to no one in particular, “How would
you like looking forward to that voice blasting in your ear for the
next six months?”
     The group began by discussing a six-page summary of Jack’s
political standing. It was decidedly upbeat, noting that Kennedy was
“well on his way” to getting the nomination and winning the White
House. His appeal to “rank-and-file voters” indicated that he was
“the only Democrat who can beat either Nixon or Rockefeller.” But,
refusing to take anything for granted, the report also acknowledged
“handicaps of age, religion and a[n imperfect liberal] Senate voting
record.” The conclusion: Jack would have to work hard for the nom-
ination by entering the primaries and staking out controversial posi-
tions. Another, more recent analysis in October cited widespread
doubts among Democrats about Jack’s seriousness, maturity, and
credentials as a bona fide liberal.
     Jack believed it essential to show both close advisers and the
larger public that he was not a stand-in for his father or under the
                     An Unfinished Life    #   243

control of his family but an independent leader who was passionate
about using politics to advance the national well-being. So he used
the October meeting to demonstrate his knowledge about vital issues.
He also wanted to remind everyone — including his brother — who
was ultimately in charge. For example, after he agreed to Bobby’s
suggestion that the thirty-three-year-old journalist Pierre Salinger
run campaign press operations, Jack took Salinger to task for issuing
a statement on Bobby’s say-so. “Check those things with me,” he
told Salinger. “You’re working for me, not for Bob now.”
     The meeting was an opportunity not for “hard-and-fast, dra-
matic, black-and-white decisions,” Sorensen said later, but for Jack
to prove to his team that a forty-three-year-old Catholic senator with
no executive experience deserved to be president. Dressed casually in
“slacks and loafers, looking thoroughly boyish,” Kennedy “amaze[d]
them all by a performance that remains in the memory of all those
who listened. . . . For three hours, broken only occasionally by a bit
of information he might request of the staff, he proceeded, occasion-
ally sitting, sometimes standing, to survey the entire country without
map or notes. It was a tour of America region by region, state by
state,” and a demonstration that “he knew all the [party] factions
and the key people in all the factions,” and where he needed to go.
     There was some strategizing, too. Minutes of the meeting show a
concern with bringing former Connecticut governor and congress-
man Chester Bowles into the campaign — not because he was a
leading progressive voice on foreign affairs and close to Kennedy’s
thinking, as Jack later emphasized to him, but because he was so
closely identified with party liberals. Nevertheless, rumors that Bowles
might become secretary of state were to be encouraged. A discussion
of winning southern support included somewhat cynical suggestions
that liberal labor opposition to Jack be publicized as widely as pos-
sible in the region, where anti-union sentiment was prevalent.
     On Saturday, January 2, 1960, Kennedy formally announced his
candidacy before an audience of three hundred supporters in the
Senate Caucus Room. In choosing a slow news day after the New
Year’s holiday, he assured himself extensive press coverage. His terse
two-page statement sounded the themes he believed could carry him
to the nomination and the White House. He wanted to become
president, he said, to ensure “a more vital life for our people” and
freedom for peoples everywhere. Specifically, he wished to end or
alter the burdensome arms race, support freedom and order in the
                   244   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

newly emerging nations, “rebuild the stature of American science
and education . . . prevent the collapse of our farm economy and the
decay of our cities,” rekindle economic growth, and give fresh direc-
tion to “our traditional moral purpose.” He had toured every conti-
nental state in the Union during the previous forty months and
would now “submit to the voters his views, record and competence
in a series of primary contests.” To answer objections that so young
and inexperienced a senator would be a risky nominee, he empha-
sized his eighteen years of service to the country as a naval officer
and member of Congress, and the extensive foreign travels that had
taken him to “nearly every continent and country.”
    Reflecting skepticism about his candidacy, reporters asked if he
would “refuse the vice presidential nomination under any circum-
stance.” His answer was unequivocal: “I will not be a candidate for
Vice President under any circumstances and that is not subject to
change.” As for the likely debate to erupt over his religion, he also
gave an unqualified response. He acknowledged that it would be a
matter of substantial discussion. But he saw only one concern for
voters: “Does a candidate believe in the Constitution, does he
believe in the First Amendment, does he believe in the separation of
church and state.” Having said that, he dismissed the issue as one
that had been settled 160 years ago and concluded that he saw “no
value in discussing a matter which is that ancient, when there are so
many issues in 1960 which are going to be important.”
    Despite everything he had said that day, few political commenta-
tors and activists thought Kennedy could get the nomination. House
Democrats and party state chairmen now predicted Symington’s
nomination; Democratic senators and southern leaders expected
Johnson to get the top spot; most Democratic governors, editors,
and “influential intellectuals” picked Stevenson or Humphrey, his
stand-in, as the ultimate winner. Jack shrugged off their predictions.
    Kennedy saw Humphrey as the least likely to beat him. True,
party liberals loved Humphrey: He had been fighting for civil rights
and New Deal social programs since he had come to the Senate
from Minnesota in 1949. When he spoke at a July 1959 party meet-
ing in Washington, he outdid Kennedy and Symington. Katie Louch-
heim said that Jack “scored 100 — but then so did Stuart, in his
calm, dignified, statesmanlike brief speech. But it was Hubert who
got the hand, was interrupted many times with applause. He shook
’em, he impassioned on their ‘topic,’ and yet he said nothing the
                      An Unfinished Life    #   245

others hadn’t said.” After Humphrey, with Jack’s encouragement,
had spoken at the University of Virginia law school, where Jack’s
brother Ted was a student, Kennedy asked his brother, “How did
Hubert do down there?” Ted replied that he “had never heard any-
one speak like Hubert Humphrey. He had a packed student audi-
ence, they were crawling all over the roof, and he just got standing
ovation after standing ovation. That wasn’t quite the answer [Jack]
wanted to hear,” Ted Kennedy recalled.
     But as a practical matter, Jack saw Humphrey as too liberal and
unable to muster the 761 delegates needed to nominate him. He was
“unpopular in some sectors,” like the business community, where
people objected to his “extremism,” Jack told Lisagor. Jack told
another journalist in the fall of 1959, “I don’t have to worry with
Humphrey. . . . [He] is dead. . . . Whether or not he knows it, he is
just a stalking horse for Stevenson and Symington.”
     As for Johnson, Jack, Bobby, and Ted believed that “no South-
erner can be nominated by a Democratic convention” — and this
included “the able majority leader, Lyndon Johnson. . . . Even if he
were . . . conceded every Southern state, every border state and most
of the moderate Eastern and Western states . . . there is still too large
a bloc of states with liberal and minority votes that he cannot
touch.” Joe Kennedy was more concerned about Johnson than Jack
was, but Jack saw him as an outsize personality, “a ‘riverboat gam-
bler,’ ” who was omnipotent in the Senate “but had no popularity in
the country.” The fact, Jack said, that he had had a heart attack in
1955, which everyone knew about, and that he was someone “who
has no very firm principles and does not believe in anything very
deeply” would also work against him.
     Symington worried Kennedy as a potential compromise candi-
date. A former air force secretary with strong liberal credentials and
Harry Truman’s support, Symington was acceptable to all wings of
the party. Should the convention reach a deadlock over the nomina-
tion, Jack thought that Symington could emerge as the party’s choice.
He told his father and brothers: “[Symington] comes from the right
state, the right background, the right religion, age and appearance,
with a noncontroversial voting record and speaking largely on mat-
ters of defense which offend no one. His appeal is largely to the
older-line professional politicians, rallying under former President
Truman . . . and their hope is that the convention will find objec-
tions with each of the other candidates and agree on Symington.”
                   246    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Jack also feared that the other candidates would bloody one another
in the primaries while Symington stood on the sidelines. “I wish I
could get Stu into a primary,” Jack privately told a reporter, “any pri-
mary, anywhere.” Barring that, the best strategy against Symington
was to win the nomination on the first ballot or before a standoff
could make him a viable choice. In the meantime, however, Joe Ken-
nedy tried to find dirt on Symington. In particular, he asked investi-
gators to look into why President Roosevelt had asked Harry Truman
to find out whether the Emerson Electric Company, which Syming-
ton had headed in the forties, had shortchanged the war effort.
     But it was Stevenson’s “sleeping candidacy” that impressed
Kennedy as his greatest threat. Jack never trusted his avowed non-
candidacy. He accepted that Stevenson disliked the thought of
another campaign and would not go after the nomination directly.
“But he still has powerful friends — so his name belongs on the list
of candidates,” the Kennedys concluded. Joe, however, was less wor-
ried about Stevenson than Jack was. “He is not a threat,” Joe told a
journalist. “The Democratic party is through in the East if he is nom-
inated. The leaders realize that it would be disastrous. . . . To elect
their State ticket they need Jack. . . . The nomination is a cinch. I’m
not a bit worried about the nomination.”
     Joe’s remarks were a brave show of public confidence, which was
a good campaign tactic. But at the start of 1960, Jack knew that
nothing was settled. “Look,” he told a reporter, “when someone says
to you, ‘You’re doing fine,’ it doesn’t mean a thing, and when some-
one says, ‘Just call any time you need anything,’ that doesn’t mean a
thing, and when someone says, ‘You’ve got a lot of friends out here,’
that doesn’t mean a thing . . . but when they say, ‘I’m for you,’ that is
the only thing that means something.”
     Most discouraging to Jack was the persistence of the country’s
irrational anti-Catholicism. Fourteen years had passed since he
entered politics, and still Jack was being asked the same offensive
questions. Antagonism to the Church and fear of its influence over
him were discussed openly. Katie Louchheim’s friends and relatives,
for example, who were “definitely and categorically anti,” told her,
“After all, this is still a Protestant country.” One of them said, “How
would you like it if the country were run the way the Catholics run
Conn[ecticut] and Mass[achusetts]?” When Schlesinger saw Jack on
the evening of January 2, Kennedy “conveyed an intangible feeling
of depression. I had the sense that he feels himself increasingly
                      An Unfinished Life    #   247

hemmed in as a result of a circumstance over which he has no con-
trol — his religion; and he inevitably tends toward gloom and irrita-
tion when he considers how the circumstance may deny him what
he thinks his talent and efforts have earned.”

THE FIRST PRIMARY contest in New Hampshire on March 6 would
be a chance to show that Kennedy could attract a decisive number of
Protestant votes, but New Hampshire was not seen as a significant
test of Jack’s national appeal, since as a New England native son
with no other serious contender, he seemed certain to win. To assure
as big a margin as possible, however, the campaign sent Rose and
Jack to speak across the state, which both did with great effective-
ness. The outcome — 85 percent of the vote against a smattering
of write-ins for Stevenson and Symington — was all the Kennedys
could have hoped for.
     Kennedy’s unopposed candidacy in Indiana and Nebraska
would give him those states’ delegates. Polls in California had
showed that Jack could beat Governor Pat Brown in a primary, and
as a trade-off for not running, Jack got a promise from Brown that if
he won primaries in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and West Virginia,
ran second behind Senator Wayne Morse in Oregon, and was lead-
ing for the nomination in the Gallup polls, Brown would support
him at the convention.
     Ohio required some especially tough negotiations with Gov-
ernor Mike DiSalle, who wanted to run as a favorite son and then
barter his state’s delegates at the convention. But the Kennedys,
threatening to back Cleveland Democratic leader Ray Miller, DiSalle’s
chief rival, as the head of the Ohio delegation, forced Disalle into a
public endorsement of Kennedy in January. At a meeting between
Jack and DiSalle in an airport motel in Pittsburgh, Jack told him,
“Mike, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. . . . You’re either going to
come out for me or we are going to run a delegation against you in
Ohio and we’ll beat you.” When Jack’s threat did not settle matters,
Bobby Kennedy, accompanied by party chairman John Bailey, went
to Ohio to force the issue. Bailey, “a veteran politician who does not
shock easily,” told Ken O’Donnell later that “he was startled by the
going-over that Bobby had given DiSalle.” The conversation added
to Bobby’s growing reputation as Jack’s hatchet man, but it forced
DiSalle into a commitment like Brown’s that gave Jack valuable
                   248   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     Deals and promises were not enough, though. Jack had to win a
truly contested primary to show that it wasn’t all back-room dealings
that qualified him for the nomination. (He thought that Johnson
and Symington were making a serious mistake by staying out of
all the primaries. Indeed, the day after announcing his candidacy,
Kennedy had said that any aspiring nominee who avoided these
contests did not deserve to have his candidacy taken seriously.) To
meet the challenge, he reluctantly decided to run against Humphrey
in Wisconsin. It meant risking the nomination. Wisconsin had a large
Protestant population, so a defeat by Humphrey would increase
doubts about a Catholic nominee. Joe Kennedy wrote a friend in
Italy, “If we do not do very well there . . . we should get out of the
fight.” He believed Wisconsin was “the crisis of the campaign.”
     In addition to the possible religious split, Humphrey had the
advantage of being a next-door neighbor — the “third senator from
Wisconsin,” as supporters called him. His rapport with Wisconsin
farmers and liberals clustered in the university community in Madi-
son made him a formidable opponent. Moreover, because Wiscon-
sin was essential to his hopes of a nomination, Hubert seemed
certain to make an all-out fight for a majority of the popular vote
and the state’s thirty-one delegates.
     Yet Jack had some reason for optimism. Between May 1958
and November 1959, he had laid the groundwork for a possible
statewide campaign. He had spent sixteen days in Wisconsin giving
speeches and meeting Democrats in cities and towns he had never
heard of before — Appleton, Ashland, Darlington, La Crosse, Lan-
caster, Platteville, Rhinelander, Rice Lake, Sparta, and Viroqua joined
Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Sheboygan as vital to his political future.
Leaving nothing to chance, he also chose a “full-time advance man
and organizer of Kennedy clubs,” and enlisted the support of Pat
Lucey, the state’s party chairman, and Ivan Nestingen, the mayor of
Madison, both of whom were now convinced of Kennedy’s liberal
credentials. Private polls in January 1960 showing Kennedy ahead of
Humphrey helped ease the difficult but, in Jack’s mind, unavoidable
decision to make the race.
     The six-week Wisconsin campaign running from mid-February
to early April tested Jack’s endurance and commitment to winning
the presidency. O’Donnell and Powers remembered it as a “winter of
cold winds, cold towns and many cold people. Campaigning in rural
areas of the state where nobody seemed to care about the presiden-
                    An Unfinished Life    #   249

tial election was a strange and frustrating experience.” In a tavern,
where Jack introduced himself to a couple of beer drinkers, saying,
“I’m John Kennedy and I’m running for President,” one of them
asked, “President of what?” On a freezing cold morning, as Jack
stood for hours in the dark shaking hands with workers arriving at a
meat packing plant, Powers whispered to O’Donnell, “God, if I had
his money, I’d be down there on the patio at Palm Beach.” Powers
might have added, “God, if I had his medical problems and all the
physical discomfort campaigning added to them . . .” But Jack was
determined to see his commitment through. When an elderly
woman stopped him on the street to say, “You’re too soon, my boy,
too soon,” Jack replied, “No, this is my time. My time is now.”
Despite his youthful and robust appearance, he knew that in eight
years — assuming the victor would serve two terms — his deteriorat-
ing back and chronic colitis might make running even more of a
problem than it was in 1960.
     The battle was against more than wind chill and back pain. The
abuse leveled at him by Humphrey’s campaign and a hostile press
were enough alone to discourage him from competing. Sorensen
said later that “vicious falsehoods were whispered about Kennedy’s
father, Kennedy’s religion and Kennedy’s personal life.” Humphrey
pilloried him as a Democratic Nixon who had recently joined the
liberal ranks to win the nomination. Appealing to populist antago-
nism to Kennedy’s wealth, Humphrey declared, “Thank God, thank
God” for his own “disorderly” campaign. “Beware of these orderly
campaigns. They are ordered, bought and paid for. We are not sell-
ing corn flakes or some Hollywood production.” Voters had to make
their choice, the balding Humphrey said, “on more than . . . how we
cut our hair or how we look.” He complained of a Republican-
inspired press buildup for Kennedy as a way to run Nixon against a
weak opponent. Echoing the charge that Jack had “little emotional
commitment to liberalism,” Humphrey said, “You have to learn to
have the emotions of a human being when you are charged with the
responsibilities of leadership.” Humphrey also attacked Jack as a
recent convert to helping farmers, echoed criticism of Kennedy’s cau-
tious response to Joe McCarthy, and before a Milwaukee Jewish
audience implicitly compared Kennedy’s “organized campaign” to
Nazi Germany, “one of the best-organized societies of our time.”
     Humphrey saw his attacks as a response to “an element of ruth-
lessness and toughness” in Kennedy’s campaign. Though he couldn’t
                   250   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

prove it, he believed that Bobby Kennedy had started and helped cir-
culate a rumor that the corrupt Teamsters union was working for
Humphrey’s election. Moreover, he thought that the Kennedys were
stimulating Catholics to vote for Jack by sending anonymous anti-
Catholic materials to Catholic households.
     Kennedy largely ignored Humphrey’s assaults. James Reston
noted that Jack “remained remarkably self-possessed. . . . He has
shown not the slightest trace of anger. He has made no claims of vic-
tory. He has made no charges against Humphrey on the local shows
or from the stump.” Instead, he ran a largely positive campaign, giv-
ing full rein to his charm and intelligence. Riding in a car with
Kennedy for an appearance at a shopping center, Peter Lisagor asked,
“ ‘Do you like these crowds and this sort of thing?’ [Kennedy] turned
back and said, ‘I hate it.’ ” But the moment he stepped out of the car,
“he lit up and smiled. He signed autographs on the brown shopping
bags of these ladies who came pouring to him. . . . He went along as
if he’d been doing this all of his life and loved it.”
     The Kennedy campaign was, for a very large part, Pat Lucey said,
“just an effective presentation of a celebrity. . . . The family was an
asset . . . genuinely glamorous as well as glamorized, so the people
were anxious to meet them wherever they went.” As a result, Hum-
phrey felt like a “corner grocer running against a chain store.” With
Jack, Bobby, Rose, and the Kennedy sisters all campaigning in Wis-
consin, Humphrey was outmanned. The Kennedys are “all over the
state,” he complained, “and they look alike and sound alike. Teddy
or Eunice talks to a crowd, wearing a raccoon coat and a stocking
cap, and people think they’re listening to Jack. I get reports that Jack
is appearing in three or four different places at the same time.”
     On April 5, Kennedy won a substantial victory, taking 56.5 per-
cent of the vote. The 476,024 Kennedy ballots were the most votes
ever received by a candidate in the fifty-seven-year history of Wiscon-
sin primaries, and Kennedy’s majorities in six out of ten districts en-
titled him to 60 percent of the state’s convention delegates. But Jack
saw his success as raising more questions about his candidacy than it
answered. Because the six districts he won included large numbers of
Catholic voters and Humphrey’s districts were principally Protestant
enclaves, including Madison, the center of liberal sentiment, Ken-
nedy could not convince party chiefs that he would command broad
backing in a national election. When Ted Sorensen heard the first
returns showing Humphrey ahead in the western, rural areas of the
                      An Unfinished Life     #   251

state, he turned “ashen.” These numbers made him “mighty uneasy.”
Dave Powers tried to put a positive face on the result: “A shift of . . .
less than 3/10 of 1% of the vote . . . would have given Kennedy
8 districts to 2.” Powers also listed thirteen counties where 70 percent
or more of non-Catholic votes were for Jack and six with substantial
numbers of Catholics he lost. None of this, however, could change
the initial perception of Kennedy as a candidate whose religion
made a difference. When Jack heard the returns, he jumped from his
seat and paced the room, muttering, “Damn religious thing.”
     Noticing the glum expression on Jack’s face as he studied the
returns, Eunice Kennedy asked him, “What does it all mean?” He
replied, “It means that we’ve got to go to West Virginia in the morn-
ing and do it all over again. And then we’ve got to go on to Mary-
land and Indiana and Oregon and win all of them.” Only then
might the press stop publishing photos of Kennedy shaking hands
with nuns and church officials and continually referring to Jack’s
Catholicism. Kennedy kept track of how often newspaper accounts
mentioned his religion, and he had not missed the fact that two days
before the primary, the Milwaukee Journal had listed the number of
voters in each county under three headings: Democrats, Republicans,
and Catholics. “The religious issue became prominent because the
newspapers said it was prominent,” Lucey asserted. When CBS news-
man Walter Cronkite asked Jack after his Wisconsin victory whether
being a Catholic had hurt him, Jack’s annoyance with Cronkite was
unmistakable. Afterward, Bobby exploded at Cronkite and his staff,
shouting that they had violated an agreement not to ask about reli-
gion and that his brother would never give them another interview.
Cronkite was unaware of such a promise, and there would be many
future interviews with both brothers. But Bobby’s outburst illus-
trated how angry he and Jack were at the implicit questions being
raised about their loyalty to the country.
     If Wisconsin left the overall situation unsettled, Jack’s victory did
accomplish something real and important. The outcome in Wiscon-
sin essentially ended Humphrey’s bid for the nomination. If he
could not win in a neighboring state with so many Protestants,
farmers, and liberals, he was unlikely to win anywhere. But, stung by
his defeat and confident that he could beat Jack in West Virginia, a
state only 4 percent Catholic, Humphrey decided to continue his
campaign. A Harris poll showed Jack ahead of Humphrey in West
Virginia by 70 to 30 percent, but even if Humphrey closed some of
                   252   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

that gap, Harris predicted, Jack would have “a comfortable margin of
victory.” Harris saw West Virginia as “a powerful weapon against
those who raise the ‘Catholic can’t win’ bit.”
     After Wisconsin, however, Jack and his advisers were not so sure.
The Wisconsin race had made West Virginia voters more aware of
Kennedy’s religion, and his lead over Humphrey disappeared. A poll
of Kanawha county, the seat of the state capital, Charleston, showed
Humphrey with 60 percent to Kennedy’s 40 percent. A report com-
ing in to Dave Powers in April concluded that “public opinion had
shifted and [Kennedy] would be lucky to get 40 per cent of the vote.”
On April 6, the day after Wisconsin, Bobby, O’Donnell, and O’Brien
went to Charleston, where they met with Kennedy organizers. “Well,
what are our problems?” Bobby asked the gathering in a crowded
hotel room. “There’s only one problem,” one man shouted. “He’s a
Catholic. That’s our God-damned problem!” A Kennedy supporter
in the state wrote Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. that “[U.S. Senator] Bob
Byrd is getting out his Bible and fiddle to make the rounds of the
country churches. These people weren’t thinking much of the reli-
gious issue, one way or another. But now every hate-monger, radio
preacher and backwoods evangelist is being stirred up for an assault
which will make 1928 look pale by comparison.”
     The state’s labor unions would also be a problem for Kennedy. A
member of the United Steel Workers reported that Kennedy had
been relying on “the reactionary element of the Democratic party . . .
to head his state organization. He would be weak in . . . the Demo-
cratic stronghold in southern W. Va. In a race between Kennedy and
Humphrey, we believe that Humphrey would win, even though the
Kennedy forces would be better financed.”
     Though some of Jack’s advisers suggested that he skip West Vir-
ginia and concentrate instead on Indiana, Nebraska, and Maryland,
he felt compelled to take up Humphrey’s challenge and show that a
Catholic could win in a Protestant state. Robert McDonough, who
ran Jack’s West Virginia office, believed that a victory there might
allow Kennedy to “bury the religious issue.” At a planning meeting
on April 8, Bobby stated their intention “to meet the religious issue
head on.” The goal was to give rational answers to questions about
Jack’s Catholicism and then move on to “something more important
to those people.” Bobby consulted with Frank Fischer, West Vir-
ginia’s Junior Chamber of Commerce president, who knew the state
as well as anyone. Fischer urged Bobby to talk about the “Four
F’s . . . food, Franklin [Roosevelt], family, and the flag.”
                     An Unfinished Life   #   253

     Jack set this strategy in motion on the first day of his West Vir-
ginia campaign. Before a crowd of three or four hundred people
gathered on the steps of the Charleston post office, Jack, micro-
phone in hand, aggressively fielded a question about his religion, “I
am a Catholic, but the fact that I was born a Catholic, does that
mean that I can’t be the President of the United States? I’m able to
serve in Congress, and my brother was able to give his life, but we
can’t be president?” McDonough “could just feel the crowd respond
to and accept his answer.” With Humphrey making his campaign
theme song “Give Me That Old Time Religion” and Baptists warning
that a Catholic would owe allegiance to the pope, Jack continuously
reminded voters that he had risked his life for the country. “Nobody
asked me if I was a Catholic when I joined the United States Navy,”
he declared. “Nobody asked my brother if he was a Catholic or
Protestant before he climbed into an American bomber plane to fly
his last mission.” The message was clear: How can you doubt my
primary loyalty to America?
     Kennedy spent two intense weeks in the state between April 5
and May 10. “He was the most attractive candidate imaginable,” Bob
McDonough said. “He just went up every valley in the state, down
every road, and over every hill, and he shook hands by the thou-
sands.” “I am the only Presidential candidate since 1924, when a West
Virginian ran for the presidency,” Kennedy told audiences, “who
knows where Slab Fork is and has been there.” He spoke so often
and so loudly that he lost his voice and had to have his brother
Ted and Sorensen speak for him. “Over and over again,” journalist
Theodore White recorded, “there was the handsome, open-faced
candidate on the T V screen, showing himself, proving that a
Catholic wears no horns.” As important, a skillfully crafted T V docu-
mentary, which the campaign put on local stations around the state,
displayed his winning manner and his achievements as a war hero,
a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, and the father of a beautiful two-
year-old daughter. A compelling sincerity about his devotion to
American freedoms dissolved most objections to his Catholicism.
     Jackie Kennedy, despite concern among Jack’s advisers that her
stylish dress and manners might alienate voters, effectively con-
nected with audiences in West Virginia. Word of her considerateness
spread after “a nice old man said he would love to meet Jackie but
could not leave his invalid wife.” After Jackie visited their home,
the man said, “Now I believe in Santa Claus. She looks like a real
queen.” She endeared herself to audiences when introducing Jack.
                    254   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

“I have to confess, I was born a Republican,” she said, “but you have
to have been a Republican to realize how nice it is to be a Demo-
crat.” Her two-year-old daughter Caroline’s vocabulary was increas-
ing with each primary, she reported. Her “first words were ‘plane,’
‘goodbye,’ and ‘New Hampshire,’ and just this morning she said
‘Wisconsin’ and ‘West Virginia.’ ” Already a month pregnant in April,
Jackie, at risk of another miscarriage, would largely disappear from
the rest of the 1960 campaign, but in West Virginia she worked
aggressively on behalf of her husband.
     She was not alone. Understanding how crucial the state was to
his chances, Kennedy enlisted all his relatives and friends in the
campaign. “The Senator is still in West Virginia,” Evelyn Lincoln
recorded on April 26. “Things do not look very good for him. . . .
The Senator has brought all the people he can think of into the
campaign. He has Lem Billings, Chuck Spalding, Ben Smith, Grant
Stockdale, Bob Troutman, Sarge Shriver and many others down there
working for him. Bobby is going all over making speeches and Teddy
is too. Larry O’Brien is in charge of the organization and Kenny
O’Donnell arranges his speaking schedule. Ralph Dungan is han-
dling the labor setup. Chuck Roche and Pierre Salinger handle the
press releases, T V, etc. Ted Reardon is in Wheeling.”
     Winning votes for Jack also meant taking them from Humphrey
by neutralizing his advantage as a passionate advocate of liberal pro-
grams. If this began as cynical campaign politics, Kennedy’s visits
to the state transformed it into a genuine concern. “Kennedy’s shock
at the suffering he saw in West Virginia was so fresh,” Teddy White
thought, “that it communicated itself with the emotion of original
discovery.” Ted Sorensen remembered how appalled Kennedy was
“by the pitiful conditions he saw, by the children of poverty, by the
families living on surplus lard and cornmeal, by the waste of human
resources.” He gained a fuller understanding of the unemployed
workers, the pensioners, and the relief recipients demoralized by
their poverty but eager for a chance to improve their lives. “I assure
you that after five weeks living among you here in West Virginia,”
Kennedy declared, “I shall never forget what I have seen. I have seen
men, proud men, looking for work who cannot find it. I have seen
people over 40 who are told that their services are no longer
needed — too old. I have seen young people who want to live in the
state, forced to leave the state for opportunities elsewhere. . . . I have
seen older people who seek medical care that is too expensive for
                     An Unfinished Life    #   255

them to afford. I have seen unemployed miners and their families
eating a diet of dry rations.” Attacking the indifference of the Eisen-
hower administration, Jack laid out a ten-point program to relieve
suffering and expand economic opportunity. He promised to increase
unemployment benefits, modernize Social Security, expand food dis-
tribution, establish a national fuels program, stimulate the coal
industry, and increase defense spending in the state. “Much more
can and should be done,” he announced in a letter to fellow Demo-
crats. “That is why West Virginia will be on the top of my agenda at
the White House.”
     On April 12, the fifteenth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s
death, Kennedy reminded an audience that Roosevelt had accom-
plished more in a hundred days than Eisenhower and Nixon had in
eight years. “And now it is time for another ‘New Deal’ — a New
Deal for West Virginia,” Jack declared. To hammer home the point,
Joe Kennedy suggested that they ask FDR Jr., a Kennedy supporter, to
join the campaign, which he did with great success, drawing wor-
shipful crowds wherever he went. A West Virginia journalist said it
was like “God’s son coming down and saying it was all right to vote
for this Catholic, it was permissible, it wasn’t something terrible to
do.” Joe also shrewdly convinced FDR Jr. to send letters praising Jack
from Hyde Park, New York, the site of FDR’s home and resting place,
to West Virginia Democrats.
     To undercut Humphrey’s stronger liberal identification, the
Kennedys argued that a vote for Humphrey, who could not possibly
get the nomination, would destroy prospects for the welfare reforms
Jack proposed. Jack also described Humphrey as the tool of a “stop-
Kennedy gang-up” backed by Lyndon Johnson and Stuart Syming-
ton. Senator Byrd publicly acknowledged the accuracy of Jack’s
assertion. “If you are for Adlai Stevenson, Senator Stuart Symington,
Senator Johnson or John Doe, this primary may be your last chance
to stop Kennedy,” he declared. Seizing on Byrd’s candid statement,
Jack responded: “Hubert Humphrey has no chance to win the
Democratic nomination for President, and he knows it, so why is he
running against me in this primary? To stop me and give the nomi-
nation to Johnson or Stevenson or Symington. If Johnson and the
other candidates want your vote in the November election, why
don’t they have enough respect for you to come here and ask for
your vote in the primary?” It was a compelling argument that
appealed to the self-interest and sense of fair play of West Virginia
                   256   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Democrats. At the same time Kennedy challenged Johnson publicly,
he confronted him privately, complaining that Johnson was using
Humphrey as a stalking-horse. According to Johnson, when he
denied he was running, Jack pressured him to “get Senator Byrd ‘out
of West Virginia.’ ” Johnson defended himself by telling Kennedy that
he could not get Byrd out of his own state and reminded Jack that he
had supported his vice presidential bid in 1956 and given him
choice committee assignments.
    With so much at stake in the election, the contest turned ugly.
Humphrey attacked his “rivals” for the nomination as “millionaire
‘money’ candidates backed by political machines.” Specifically, he
went after Kennedy’s free spending: “I don’t think elections should
be bought. . . . American politics are far too important to belong to
the money men. . . . Kennedy is the spoiled candidate and he and
that young, emotional, juvenile Bobby are spending with wild aban-
don. . . . Anyone who gets in the way of papa’s pet is going to be
destroyed. . . . I don’t seem to recall anybody giving the Kennedy
family — father, mother, sons or daughters — the privilege of decid-
ing who should . . . be our party’s nominee.”
    When Kennedy complained about the “personal abuse” and
“gutter politics,” Humphrey shot back, “Poor little Jack. That is a
shame. And you can quote me on that.” Humphrey also ridiculed
his complaint of an anti-Kennedy coalition: “I wish he would grow
up and stop acting like a boy. What does he want, all the votes?”
Humphrey asserted that Kennedy was “attempting to set up an alibi
should he lose.”
    Although Humphrey was never proud of his negative attacks,
which did more to hurt him than Kennedy, he had reason for com-
plaint. “I would suggest that brother Bobby examine his own con-
science about innuendoes and smears,” he said. “If he has trouble
knowing what I mean, I can refresh his memory very easily.” An
FDR Jr. assertion that Humphrey had been a draft dodger, which
Humphrey believed was approved by Bobby, if not Jack, particularly
incensed him. In possession of information that Humphrey may
have sought military deferments during World War II, Bobby had
pressed Roosevelt to use this in retaliation for Humphrey’s harsh
words. In fact, having tried and failed to get into the service because
of physical disabilities, Humphrey corrected the record with the Ken-
nedys. “They believed me,” he wrote later, “but never shut F.D.R. Jr.,
up, as they easily could have.” Jack publicly announced, “Any discus-
sion of the war record of Senator Humphrey was done without my
                     An Unfinished Life    #   257

knowledge and consent, as I strongly disagree with the injection of
this issue into the campaign.” His statement, however, did not chal-
lenge the accuracy of what Roosevelt had said. Having addressed
issues of food, Franklin, and family in the campaign, the Kennedys
were now taking care of the flag.
     But it was Kennedy spending that Humphrey knew was his
biggest problem. In West Virginia politics, money was king. “As I
told you last time you were down here,” a state political veteran
wrote FDR Jr. in April, “most of these coal-field counties are for sale.
It is a matter of who gets there first with the most money.” Teddy
White wrote, “Politics in West Virginia involves money — hot money,
under-the-table money, open money.”
     The payoffs involved a system of slating, which was a form of
legalized bribery. To sort through dense ballots with long lists of
names, voters relied on “slates” given to them by county political
bosses, usually the county sheriff. Voters would then vote for those
candidates on the slate. It was all very simple: The candidate who
paid the most to the county Democratic boss (under the conceit of
subsidizing “printing” costs) would have his list of backers identified
as the “approved slate.” When one county sheriff told a Humphrey
campaign organizer what each name on a slate would cost in his
county and the man passed the word to Humphrey, the response
was, “We would pay it, but we don’t have the money.” Where Hum-
phrey’s total expenditures on the campaign amounted to $25,000,
the Kennedys spent $34,000 on T V programming alone. With the
Kennedys’ approval, Larry O’Brien independently negotiated the
payments for the slates. “Our highest possible contribution was
peanuts compared to what they [county leaders] had received from
the Kennedy organization,” Humphrey complained. Such payments
did not, O’Donnell noted, bother “the earthy and realistic people of
West Virginia, who were accustomed to seeing the local candidate
for sheriff carrying a little black bag that contained something other
than a few bottles of Bourbon whiskey.”
     On May 10, Kennedy won a landslide, 60.8 to 39.2 percent. As
Joe Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary, said of the 1920 Harding
victory, “It wasn’t a landslide, it was an earthquake.” It did not mat-
ter that the vote was not binding on the state’s twenty-five conven-
tion delegates. Kennedy had proved that he could amass a big
majority among Protestants. Kennedy opponents tried to downplay
the result with accusations of vote buying. An investigation by Eisen-
hower’s attorney general William P. Rogers turned up no significant
                   258   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

wrongdoing. The editor of the Charleston Gazette “sent two of our
best men out. They spent three to four weeks checking. Kennedy did
not buy that election,” he concluded. “He sold himself to the vot-
ers.” It was a fair assessment. The Kennedy expenditures financing
the slates were technically legal. The combination of Jack’s personal
appeal, lavish Kennedy campaign spending, an emphasis on eco-
nomic uplift, assurances about Jack’s commitment to separation of
church and state, and Humphrey’s pointless candidacy after Wiscon-
sin gave Jack the decisive victory. When Newsweek quoted Humphrey
as believing that the election was stolen from him, he wrote the edi-
tor, “I have no complaints about the election — Senator Kennedy
won it and I lost it.”
     Within ten days after West Virginia, Jack had beaten Wayne
Morse in Maryland by 70 to 17 percent and then defeated him in
Oregon, his home state, by 51 to 32 percent. It was Kennedy’s sev-
enth straight primary victory and convinced Jack’s advisers that he
was on his way to the nomination.

THERE WERE OTHER HURDLES to be cleared, however. Because many
liberals still had hopes of nominating Stevenson, the Kennedys tried
to weaken him by getting Humphrey to support Jack. After Hum-
phrey conceded defeat in West Virginia, he sent word to Bobby
Kennedy that he was dropping out of the race. Bobby immediately
went to see him at his hotel in Charleston. He was not a welcome
guest. In the words of liberal attorney Joe Rauh, Bobby was “the
devil as far as this camp [was] concerned. . . . He was the one whom
all our people were so bitter about.” The defeat had humiliated
Humphrey; Rauh remembered his appearance at his campaign head-
quarters as “the saddest sight I’ve ever seen. . . . Humphrey stood all
alone in the middle of this big room . . . and looked at the black-
board, and almost was speechless. The banjo player had started
to cry, and Hubert had to comfort him.” Humphrey’s wife, Muriel,
was furious. “She did not want to see any Kennedy, much less be
touched by one,” Humphrey recalled. “When Bob arrived in our
room, he moved quickly to her and kissed her on the cheek. Muriel
stiffened, stared, and turned in silent hostility, walking away from
him, fighting tears and angry words.” Bobby’s gesture was not
enough to bring Humphrey to Jack’s side.
     It was more important for Stevenson to back Kennedy at the
convention; this would make Jack’s nomination a near certainty.
                     An Unfinished Life   #   259

Believing he was between eighty and one hundred votes short of the
goal, Jack thought “it would be most helpful if Adlai could throw his
votes . . . [my] way at the proper moment. If he hangs on to his
votes,” Jack told Schlesinger through an intermediary, “it will only
mean that either Symington or Johnson will benefit.”
     Although Jack had little hope that Stevenson could be persuaded
to support him, he was determined to try. Months before, he had
sent word to Stevenson through Connecticut governor Abe Ribicoff
that if he could not get the nomination, he would publicly
announce his wish to run as Stevenson’s VP, “which would nail
down the Catholic vote” for Stevenson. “If he comes out for me and
I’ve got the nomination and I win,” he had also asked Ribicoff to tell
Stevenson, “I’ll make him Secretary of State.” Stevenson would not
agree. In May 1960, Jack approached Stevenson again. On his way
back from a trip to the West Coast, Jack stopped at his home in Lib-
ertyville, Illinois. Stevenson refused to make any promises except not
to join a “stop-Kennedy movement” or to encourage any draft of
himself. Kennedy was disappointed. “God, why won’t he be satisfied
with Secretary of State?” he said to Stevenson’s law firm partner Bill
Blair. “I guess there’s nothing I can do,” he added, “except go out
and collect as many votes as possible and hope that Stevenson will
come along.” As he got on a plane to fly to Boston, Jack added,
“Guess who the next person I see will be — the person who will say
about Adlai, ‘I told you that son-of-a-bitch has been running for
President every moment since 1956’?” Blair replied: “Daddy.”
     Jack shared his father’s view and was furious with Stevenson for
standing in his way. Jack believed that Stevenson had an overblown
reputation as an intellectual. As the author of two books, Kennedy
thought that he deserved to be seen as more cerebral than Steven-
son, and told friends that he read more books in a week than
Stevenson did in a year. He referred to Stevenson as a “switcher,” or
bisexual, and wondered what women, who were his strongest sup-
porters, saw in him. When Jack asked Stevenson’s friend Clayton
Fritchey to explain the attraction, Fritchey replied, “He likes women,
he likes to talk to them, to be around them. Do you like them?”
Fritchey asked, twitting Jack for his reputation as a philanderer. “I
wouldn’t go that far,” Jack answered. Kennedy preferred columnist
Joe Alsop’s description of him as “a Stevenson with balls.”
     Kennedy was even more angry at Johnson. After West Virginia,
LBJ began saying that Kennedy had bought the election there and
                   260   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

that the country would not want to nominate a president based on
what four or five or even eight states did in primaries with limited
voter participation. Johnson also told columnist Drew Pearson that
“none of these big-city leaders in New York, New Jersey, or Illinois
want Kennedy. Most of them are Catholics and they don’t want a
Catholic heading up the ticket.” Johnson also went to see Stevenson.
“Now, listen, Adlai, you just hang loose here,” he said. “Don’t make
any commitments. You may still get it. Don’t help that kid, Kennedy.
You just stay neutral.”
    In May, after the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane
and Moscow canceled a summit meeting between Eisenhower and
Khrushchev, Kennedy criticized the administration’s failure to sus-
pend such flights before the summit and refusal to acknowledge that
it had spied. Johnson, seeing an opportunity to illustrate Jack’s inex-
perience in foreign affairs, declared, “I am not prepared to apologize
to Mr. Khrushchev.” He then excluded Kennedy from a telegram he,
Stevenson, Rayburn, and Fulbright sent the Soviet leader asking him
to hold the summit conference with the president.
    Even Truman joined the anti-Kennedy chorus, calling at a tele-
vised press conference for an open convention — not a “pre-
arranged . . . mockery . . . controlled by one . . . candidate” — and
declaring that the world crisis required someone “with the greatest
possible maturity and experience.” Jack publicly replied that “Mr.
Truman regards an open convention as one which studies all the
candidates, reviews their records, and then takes his advice.” Jack
also said that Truman’s maturity test “would have kept Jefferson
from writing the Declaration of Independence, Washington from
commanding the Continental Army, [and] Madison from fathering
the Constitution.”
    Despite Stevenson’s refusal to bow out and Johnson’s belated
effort to become the nominee, the smart money was still on
Kennedy. At the end of May, Bobby calculated that Jack had 577 del-
egates and could pick up the additional 184 needed for nomination
from seven other states. Joe wrote an English friend, “If we can get a
break at all in Pennsylvania and a reasonable break in California,
we’re home.” In June, after Jack told his father that the Pennsylvania
delegation was now solidly behind him, Joe declared, “Well, that’s it.
We’ve got a solid majority.” Johnson conceded privately that “those
wanting to bet the favorite had better put their money on Jack.”
    Events in the days before the convention opened in Los Angeles
on Monday, July 11, however, persuaded the Kennedys to take noth-
                     An Unfinished Life   #   261

ing for granted. Johnson announced his candidacy on July 5, and
began publicly attacking Jack. LBJ’s backers reminded journalists and
delegates of Kennedy’s response to Joe McCarthy, quoted Eleanor
Roosevelt’s criticism of Kennedy, publicized Jack’s absenteeism as a
senator (“Where was Jack?” an LBJ flyer asked), and, most troubling
to the Kennedys, publicly asked for an evaluation of Jack’s health,
explaining that he had Addison’s disease, which raised questions
about his capacity to serve as president. Johnson called Dr. Gerald
Labiner, an internist in Los Angeles who had been a fellow at the
Lahey Clinic and knew Kennedy’s medical history, to ask if Jack had
Addison’s disease. Although it was an open secret among Jack’s physi-
cians, Labiner refused to confirm Johnson’s assumption.
    In private, Johnson was more scathing, especially about Jack’s
age and well-being. “Did you hear the news?” Johnson asked Min-
nesota congressman Walter Judd. “What news?” Judd replied. “Jack’s
pediatricians have just given him a clean bill of health!” Johnson
described Kennedy to Lisagor as “a little scrawny fellow with rickets.
Have you ever seen his ankles?” Johnson asked. “ ‘They’re about so
round,’ and he traced a minute circle with his finger.” If Johnson had
known the full story of Jack’s poor health, he would undoubtedly
have leaked it to the press. But the Kennedys had managed largely to
keep Jack’s health problems a secret. Johnson also predicted that if
Jack became president, Joe would run the country and Bobby would
become secretary of labor.
    The evening before Johnson and Rayburn flew to Los Angeles,
they met with Eisenhower at the White House. Ike later told journal-
ist Earl Mazo that they regarded Kennedy “as a mediocrity in the
Senate, as a nobody who had a rich father. . . . And they’d tell some
of the God-damndest stories.” They went on for two hours telling
Eisenhower, “Ike, for the good of the country, you cannot let that
man become elected President. Now, he might get the nomination out
there, he probably will, but he’s a dangerous man.” They repeated
the phrase several times. They obviously wanted Eisenhower to say
something publicly that would help them block Kennedy’s nomina-
tion. But Ike did no more than assure them that if Kennedy were the
candidate, Dick Nixon would beat him.
    Some of Johnson’s remarks got back to Bobby. “I knew he hated
Jack. But I didn’t think he hated him that much,” Bobby said to Lis-
agor. When Bobby Baker, LBJ’s Senate aide, complained to Bobby
Kennedy that brother Ted was putting out stories about Johnson’s
heart condition, Bobby angrily replied: “You’ve got your nerve. Lyndon
                   262   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

Johnson has compared my father to the Nazis, and [Texas governor]
John Connally . . . lied by saying that my brother was dying of Addi-
son’s disease. You Johnson people are running a stinking damned
campaign and you’ll get yours when the time comes.”
     Calling Johnson’s tactics “despicable,” the Kennedys released
statements denying that Jack had “an ailment classically described as
Addison’s Disease” and describing Jack’s health as “excellent.” The
statements more than shaded the truth: While Jack might not have
had classical or primary Addison’s, at a minimum, he had a second-
ary form of the ailment. The Kennedys had never allowed Eugene
Cohen, Jack’s endocrinologist, “the opportunity to carry out the nec-
essary tests that would have been required to establish the diag-
nosis,” Cohen told Dr. Seymour Reichlin, another endocrinologist.
“Thus, [Cohen] could never say definitively that Kennedy had the
disease.” If it were known, however, that he also suffered from coli-
tis, compression fractures of his spine, which forced him to take a
variety of pain medications, and chronic prostatitis, it could have
raised substantial doubts about his fitness for the presidency. Ken-
nedy’s friend Bill Walton said later that during the campaign an aide
followed Jack everywhere with a special little bag containing the med-
ical support needed all the time. When the medical bag was mis-
placed during a campaign trip to Connecticut, Kennedy called up
Abe Ribicoff and said, “There’s a medical bag floating around and it
can’t get in anybody’s hands. . . . You have to find that bag. It would
be murder” if the wrong people got hold of it and revealed its con-
tents, which would have shown Jack’s reliance on so many drugs.
(The bag was recovered.)
     All the political churning in the run-up to the convention made
the Kennedys apprehensive. They expected to win. But history had
demonstrated that conventions were volatile and could produce
unpredictable results. Two Democratic front-runners earlier in the
century — Champ Clark in 1912 and William G. McAdoo in 1924 —
had found themselves upended by events beyond their control.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. counseled against assuming anything. He de-
scribed a convention as “far too fluid and hysterical a phenomenon
for exact history. Everything happens at once and everywhere, and
everything changes too quickly. People talk too much, smoke too
much, rush too much and sleep too little. Fatigue tightens nerves
and produces susceptibility to rumor and panic. No one can see a
convention whole. . . . At the time it is all a confusion; in retrospect
it is all a blur.”
                     An Unfinished Life    #   263

     During a July 10 interview on Meet the Press, Jack was asked if he
thought the convention was “wrapped up.” “No, I don’t,” he replied.
“No convention is.” While he predicted a victory, he would not say
on which ballot. Nor would he acknowledge his concern that a fail-
ure to win on the first ballot could lead to disaster. When Bobby was
asked later why they had not given much initial thought to who
would be vice president, he answered: “We wanted to just try to get
the nomination. . . . We were counting votes. We had to win on the
first ballot. We only won by fifteen votes. . . . I think in North
Dakota and South Dakota we won it by half a vote. California was
falling apart. . . . [New York’s] Carmine De Sapio came to me and
said what we’d like to do is make a deal — 30 votes will go to Lyn-
don Johnson and then you’ll get them all back on the second ballot.
I said to hell with that; we’re going to win it on the first ballot. So
you know, it was all that kind of business. There wasn’t any place
that was stable.” They were worried that support in a number of
states, especially Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, might
erode on second and third ballots and open the way for LBJ to win
the nomination. Jack told Sorensen that if they did not win by the
second ballot, it would be “never.” Joe Kennedy stopped in Las Vegas
on his way to Los Angeles to place a substantial bet on Jack’s nomi-
nation. He was less interested in winning money than in encourag-
ing a bandwagon psychology by reducing the odds on Jack’s success.
     Although Stevenson had too few delegates to be nominated, his
backers were so vocal, so intense, that they sustained illusions of a
possible victory. When Harris Wofford arrived at the convention, he
“found thousands of supporters marching and chanting, ‘We want
Stevenson.’ Inside, other thousands in the galleries were continuing
the cry at each opportunity. The next afternoon, when Stevenson
himself entered to sit in the Illinois delegation, he received a huge
ovation and was almost carried to the platform in a sea of enthusi-
asm.” “This was more than a demonstration,” Teddy White wrote
later, “it was an explosion.”
     Stevenson, swept up in the outpouring of emotion, lost perspec-
tive and tried to engineer a last-minute coup on his own behalf. He
asked Richard Daley, who had announced the Illinois delegation for
Kennedy, to switch on the first ballot. According to Bobby Kennedy,
Stevenson told Daley, “ ‘We’ve got to have a favorite son and I come
from Illinois, and you’ve got to be with me because it would be
embarrassing if I don’t have Illinois.’ And Dick Daley almost threw
him out of the office. He said Illinois had met their responsibilities
                   264    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

to Adlai Stevenson and that they had pledged to Jack Kennedy and
that’s the way they were going. . . . It seemed to us to be the actions
of an old woman.” Daley recalled telling Stevenson that he had no
support in the delegation and was lucky to have the two votes he got
out of sixty-eight.
     Nothing was left to chance. When Johnson took a fresh swipe at
Kennedy on foreign affairs, declaring that “the forces of evil . . . will
have no mercy for innocence, no gallantry for inexperience,” they
prepared a fact sheet on Lyndon Johnson’s limited understanding of
foreign affairs compared to Kennedy’s travels, knowledge, and expe-
rience. Kennedy volunteers took up a vigil over each of the fifty-four
delegations. They ate, drank, and all but lived with them, report-
ing on their “moods, questions, and trends, and, above all . . . their
votes.” Bobby insisted on practically having the name, address, and
telephone number of every half vote. “I don’t want generalities or
guesses,” he said. “There’s no point in our fooling ourselves. I want
the cold facts.” When one volunteer complained at being asked to
appear at 8:00 A.M. the next morning after three nights with almost
no sleep, Bobby sharply responded, “Look, nobody asked you
here. . . . If this is too tough for you, let us know and we’ll get some-
body else.”
     The Kennedy organization orchestrated Jack’s every move. Dave
Powers found Jack a three-bedroom “hideaway” penthouse apart-
ment on North Rossmore Avenue, a fifteen-minute drive from the
downtown Biltmore Hotel, where Bobby set up campaign headquar-
ters in an eighth-floor triple suite from which he exercised “precise,
taut, disciplined” control. A floor above, Jack had a private suite
adjacent to a press room from which Salinger turned out a daily
four-page paper, the “Kennedy Convention News,” that was deliv-
ered to every delegate’s room. A band playing “High Hopes” and
dancing girls dressed in “colorful candy-striped outfits” were part of
a crowd of five thousand people meeting Jack at L.A.’s airport on Sat-
urday, July 9. Another well-planned demonstration greeted Jack’s
arrival at the Biltmore, where he worked his way through crowds of
well-wishers at a Kennedy hospitality suite. In his ninth-floor sitting
room, he studied the latest delegate counts and conferred with for-
mer New York governor Averell Harriman, George Meany, Jim Farley,
and Mike Prendergast. After an NBC-T V interview, he joined Penn-
sylvania governor Dave Lawrence, who briefed him on conversations
with several other big-city and state party leaders.
                     An Unfinished Life   #   265

    Jack spent Sunday, July 10, seeing several governors, attending a
brunch for the California delegation, greeting twenty-five hundred
convention delegates at a reception in the Biltmore ballroom, speak-
ing to an NAACP conference at the Shrine Auditorium, attending a
black-tie Democratic National Committee dinner at the Beverly
Hilton Hotel, and appearing on T V network news programs. The
pace picked up on Monday and Tuesday, when Jack, in a white air-
conditioned Cadillac equipped with a telephone (a rarity in 1960),
sped from one state caucus to another, shaking hands, making brief
remarks, and answering questions. Inviting media coverage and
arranging a Kennedy press conference with 750 journalists, the cam-
paign added to the picture of an energetic, healthy, smiling candi-
date moving confidently toward an inevitable victory.
    Despite all the outward signs of optimism, developments on
Tuesday increased apprehensions among Kennedy supporters. In
response to the passionate demonstrations for Stevenson, the Cali-
fornia delegation shifted from Kennedy to an even split between
Kennedy and Stevenson. The Kansas and Iowa caucuses defied their
respective governors, who had promised their delegations to Jack, by
agreeing to cast first-ballot votes for favorite sons.
    Simultaneously, Johnson kept up his attacks. Before the Wash-
ington state delegation he pilloried Joe Kennedy as a Nazi appeaser:
“I wasn’t any Chamberlain — umbrella policy man,” he declared.
“I never thought Hitler was right.” Privately, Johnson’s supporters
asked whether a Catholic could put the interests of the country
ahead of those of his church. On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson chal-
lenged Jack to a debate before the Massachusetts and Texas delega-
tions. When Kennedy accepted, Johnson assailed his voting record
on farm legislation and civil rights, and his absenteeism. Jack deftly
turned aside the criticism by saying he saw no need for a debate with
Johnson “because I don’t think that Senator Johnson and I disagree
on the great issues that face us.” Jack then praised LBJ’s record as
majority leader and drew laughter by promising to support him for
another term.
    The excitement at the convention increased on Wednesday with
the formal nominations of Johnson, Kennedy, and Stevenson. (Rec-
ognizing the hopelessness of his candidacy, Symington had dropped
out.) The explosion of enthusiasm for Stevenson exceeded anything
seen at a Democratic convention since William Jennings Bryan had
gained the nomination on an emotional tide of protest in 1896. A
                   266   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

brilliantly cadenced speech by Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy
ignited the demonstration. “Do not reject this man,” McCarthy
pleaded. “Do not reject this man who has made us all proud to be
Democrats. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own
party.” Having filled the floor and packed the galleries with their
supporters, Stevenson’s backers cheered, shouted, sang, chanted,
marched, and snake-danced their way around the hall, shouting,
“We want Stevenson.” Only after party officials had turned out the
lights could they restore order. Watching the spectacle on television
at his father’s rented Beverly Hills estate, Jack said, “Don’t worry,
Dad. Stevenson has everything but delegates.” Joe was not so sure.
The night before at a dinner party, he had been scathing about
Stevenson’s refusal to step aside: “Your man must be out of his
mind,” Joe said to Bill Blair. When Blair replied that he was for Jack,
Joe “shook his fist at me and said, ‘You’ve got 24 hours.’ ”
     Jack was right about Stevenson’s delegate support. But Bobby
refused to take the nomination for granted. Earlier in the day, he had
told organizers, “We can’t miss a trick in the next twelve hours. If we
don’t win tonight, we’re dead.” Although they gained twice as many
delegates as Johnson on the first ballot, they did not clinch the vic-
tory until the end of the roll call, when Wyoming’s fifteen votes gave
them 763 delegates, two more than the required majority. At the
convention hall, where Jack and Bobby had a private moment to-
gether after the nomination, Jack could be seen smiling and Bobby,
with his customary intensity and head bowed, repeatedly hitting the
open palm of his left hand with the fist of his right hand. The next
day, when Dick Daley tried to sell Jack on a vice presidential candi-
date with a reminder of how much he had done to help him get the
nomination, Kennedy responded, “Not you nor anybody else nomi-
nated us. We did it ourselves.”

        I know nothing grander, better exercise, better digestion,
        more positive proof of the past, the triumphant result of
        faith in human kind, than a well-contested American
        national election.
          — Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas”

BECAUSE VICE PRESIDENTS traditionally counted for little after
assuming office, presidential nominees thought almost exclusively
about how their choice would affect the coming election. Indiffer-
ence to qualifications had been so pronounced that in 1908,
William Jennings Bryan had chosen an unknown wealthy eighty-
four-year-old who would help finance his campaign. Woodrow Wil-
son had commented on the office, “In saying how little there is to be
said about it, one has evidently said all there is to say.” Despite
seven presidential deaths elevating vice presidents, presidential can-
didates’ thinking about possible successors remained largely the
same. As recently as 1945, after making Truman his VP, Roosevelt
had failed to inform him about the atomic bomb. The onset of the
Cold War and Nixon’s rise to political prominence, however, had
made the vice presidency a more important office. And though
Kennedy at age forty-three saw no reason to worry about dying, at
least not since he had begun using replacement cortisone in 1947,
he wanted someone who could help in a close election and have
indisputable competence as a possible successor.
    A rich field of candidates to choose from complicated Kennedy’s
decision. Humphrey, Johnson, and Symington were obvious front-
runners, because of their rival candidacies and their standing as
experienced congressional leaders. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson
                   268   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

of Washington, an expert on defense issues, and even Stevenson
were other possibilities.
     Why and how Kennedy made his decision seems beyond precise
recounting. We know that he had been thinking about the question
for some time before the convention. On June 29, Sorensen had
given him a list of twenty-one possibilities. According to Sorensen,
Kennedy consulted other party leaders, who put Humphrey, Steven-
son, Johnson, Symington, Minnesota liberal Orville Freeman, and
Jackson at the top of their lists. Believing that it was an effective
means to discourage bitter-end opposition from rivals for the presi-
dency who were also interested in the second spot, Kennedy gave no
clear indication of whom he would choose.
     Liberal opposition to Kennedy before and during the convention
reduced the likelihood that he would select someone from that
camp. Stevenson’s refusal to step aside and Humphrey’s continu-
ing resistance to Jack’s nomination pushed them outside the circle.
On July 14, the day after Jack’s selection, when news commentator
Edward Morgan privately asked him if he would give the vice presi-
dency to Humphrey, Kennedy replied, “No, absolutely not. The cred-
ibility of that camp has been destroyed.” As Stevenson, Humphrey,
and Freeman urged party unity at the convention before Jack gave
his acceptance speech, Joe, watching the proceedings at Time-Life
publisher Henry Luce’s house, made snide remarks about each of
them. “There was no respect for any of these liberals,” Luce said. “He
just thought they were all fools on whom he had played this giant
     To be sure, in a race against Nixon, liberal support of the party’s
nominee was a given, but Kennedy’s past problems with liberals and
an aftermath of anger at him over Stevenson’s defeat gave him rea-
son to worry that some of them might stay away from the polls. He
had tried to accommodate them by backing the strongest possible
civil rights plank in the party’s platform and telling Martin Luther
King Jr. privately and the NAACP publicly that he wanted “no com-
promise of basic principles — no evasion of basic controversies —
and no second-class citizenship for any American anywhere in this
country.” In his speech to the NAACP a few days before his nomina-
tion, he said it was not enough to fight segregation only in the
South; he intended to combat “the more subtle but equally vicious
forms of discrimination that are found in the clubs and churches
and neighborhoods of the rest of the country.” He also planned to
                     An Unfinished Life   #   269

use the “immense moral authority of the White House . . . to offer
leadership and inspiration. . . . And the immense legal authority of
the White House” to protect voting rights, end school segregation,
and assure equal opportunity in federally funded jobs and housing.
     Kennedy himself, at the end of June and again at the conven-
tion, had told Clark Clifford that he favored Symington. Labor lead-
ers were partial to him, and his candidacy might help in the
Midwest, where Jack did not think he would do well. The journalist
John Seigenthaler of the Nashville Tennessean cited Robert Kennedy
as also saying that Symington was Kennedy’s choice. But, in fact,
Symington was no more than a stalking-horse. Truman’s backing
for Symington was more a minus than a plus: Richard Daley’s asser-
tion that Symington’s appeal downstate could make the difference
in Illinois and Sorensen’s prediction that he could help with farmers
were insufficient to counter his youth. He was “too much like JFK
(We don’t want the ticket referred to as ‘the whiz kids’),” Sorensen
told Kennedy.
     The logical choice seemed to be Lyndon Johnson. At a personal
level, the Kennedys were not well-disposed toward him. He had said
harsh things about Jack and Joe and antagonized Bobby by rejecting
his father’s suggestion of an LBJ-JFK ticket in 1956. In November
1959, when Jack had sent Bobby to see Johnson at his Texas ranch to
ask if he was running, Johnson, in some peculiar test of manhood or
as a way of one-upping the Kennedys, insisted that he and Bobby
hunt deer. When Bobby was knocked to the ground and cut above
the eye by the recoil of a shotgun Johnson had lent him, Johnson
exclaimed, “Son, you’ve got to learn to handle a gun like a man.” It
was an indication of his low regard for the whole Kennedy clan.
     But with so much at stake, Jack put aside personal feelings about
Johnson. Annoyance at Johnson for his attacks on Joe and Jack did
not diminish the belief that he was well qualified to be president,
if it ever came to that. In 1958, Kennedy had told MIT economist
Walt W. Rostow that “the Democratic party owes Johnson the nomi-
nation. He’s earned it. He wants the same things for the country that
I do. But it’s too close to Appomattox for Johnson to be nominated
and elected. So, therefore, I feel free to run.”
     Politically, Johnson seemed the most likely of all to help win
crucial states. The traditionally solid Democratic South promised to
be a sharply contested battleground. An overtly liberal running mate
wouldn’t net any additional Kennedy votes in that region. In addition,
                   270    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

reluctance among southern Protestants to vote for a Catholic wor-
ried Jack and encouraged him to seek an advantage in Texas and
across the South by taking Johnson.
    On Monday, July 11, when columnist Joe Alsop and Washington
Post publisher Phil Graham urged Kennedy to pick Johnson, he
“immediately agreed, so immediately as to leave me doubting the
easy triumph,” Graham recalled, “and I therefore restated the matter,
urging him not to count on Johnson’s turning it down but to offer
the Vpship so persuasively as to win Johnson over. Kennedy was
decisive in saying that was his intention, pointing out that Johnson
would help the ticket not only in the South but in important seg-
ments of the Party all over the country.” Johnson responded skepti-
cally to the news, saying “he supposed the same message was going
out to all the candidates.”
    Kennedy doubted that Johnson would accept an invitation to
join the ticket. Johnson had declared, “I wouldn’t want to trade a
vote for a gavel, and I certainly wouldn’t want to trade the active posi-
tion of leadership of the greatest deliberative body in the world for
the part-time job of presiding.” On July 12, when Tommy Corcoran
told Jack that asking Johnson was the best way to win in November
and avoid a defeat that could discourage another Catholic from run-
ning “for generations,” Kennedy had replied, “Stop kidding, Tommy,
Johnson will turn me down.” Kennedy found it difficult to imag-
ine that as dominating a personality as LBJ would be willing to take
a backseat to someone who had deprived him of the presidency,
especially someone he viewed as less qualified and less deserving of
the job.
    In fact, Johnson wanted the vice presidency. By 1960, his control
of the Senate as majority leader had begun to wane; the election
of several liberals in 1958 had undercut his dominance. He also
assumed that if Kennedy won the presidency without him, the
White House would set the legislative agenda and he would be little
more than the president’s man in the Senate. Moreover, if Nixon
became president, he would have to deal with a Republican chief
who would be less accommodating than Eisenhower and less in-
clined to allow Johnson to exercise effective leadership. Running
for vice president would not only free him from future problems
as majority leader but also might give him significant benefits. If
Kennedy lost, he would nevertheless have a claim on the Democratic
nomination in 1964. And if Kennedy won, Johnson hoped to use
                     An Unfinished Life    #   271

his political talent, which had made him an exceptional majority
leader, to expand the influence of the vice president’s office as a pre-
lude to running for president in 1968. The vice presidency is “my
only chance ever to be President,” Johnson told Clare Booth Luce,
Henry Luce’s wife and Eisenhower’s ambassador to Italy. He also
saw running with Kennedy as a way to elevate the role of his native
region. As a congressman and a senator, he had devoted himself to
bringing the South back into the mainstream of the country’s eco-
nomic and political life. An effective southern VP could influence
policy making and open the way to the first southern president since
the Civil War.
     For all Jack’s doubts about the majority leader’s willingness to
join him, Johnson had actually sent clear signals to Jack that he was
interested in second place. Indeed, one month before the conven-
tion, in June, when Bobby Baker and Ted Sorensen had discussed the
possibility, Baker had “cautioned” Sorensen “not to be so certain
that his boss would reject a Kennedy-Johnson ticket.” The day before
Kennedy’s nomination, Sam Rayburn told John McCormack and Tip
O’Neill that “if Kennedy wants Johnson for Vice President . . . then
he has nothing else he can do but to be on the ticket.” Rayburn also
said that if Jack called him with an offer for Johnson, he would insist
that Johnson take it. When O’Neill gave Kennedy the message, Jack
responded, “Of course I want Lyndon Johnson. . . . The only thing
is, I would never want to offer it and have him turn me down; I
would be terrifically embarrassed. He’s the natural. If I can ever get
him on the ticket, no way we can lose.” Kennedy promised to call
Rayburn that night. Immediately after Jack won the nomination,
Johnson sent him a warm telegram of congratulations with the sen-
tence, “LBJ now means Let’s Back Jack.”
     The telegram solidified Kennedy’s decision. At about 2 A.M. Pow-
ers called Johnson’s hotel room so that Jack could speak with him.
When an aide said that Johnson was asleep, Kennedy asked Evelyn
Lincoln to arrange a meeting with Johnson at ten in the morning. At
8:00 A.M. Jack met privately with Bobby in his Biltmore suite. As
they came out of the room where they had been talking, Powers
heard Bobby say, “If you are sure it’s what you want to do, go ahead
and see him.” Bobby returned to his room for a bath. When O’Don-
nell entered Bob’s suite, Salinger greeted him with the news that
Bobby had just asked him “to add up the electoral votes in the states
we’re sure of and to add Texas.” O’Donnell, who, with Kennedy’s
                  272   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

approval, had promised labor leaders and civil rights groups that
they would never take LBJ, was furious. In the bathroom of Jack’s
suite, the only place O’Donnell and Kennedy could find for a private
discussion, O’Donnell told him, “This is the worst mistake you ever
made.” It meant going “against all the people who supported you.”
He warned that they would have to spend the campaign apologizing
for having Johnson on the ticket and “trying to explain why he voted
against everything you ever stood for.”
     Kennedy turned pale with anger. He was “so upset and hurt that
it took him a while before he was able to collect himself.” He
explained that he was less concerned with southern votes than with
getting Johnson out of the Senate, where he could play havoc with a
Kennedy administration legislative agenda. With Johnson gone, “I’ll
have [Montana senator] Mike Mansfield as the leader . . . ” Kennedy
said, “somebody I can trust and depend on.” He urged O’Donnell to
carry this message to labor leaders and liberals more generally, who
were as exercised by the news as O’Donnell was.
     But the liberals were not so easily appeased. When a labor group
went to Kennedy’s suite at eleven o’clock, Bobby “was very dis-
tressed, Ken O’Donnell looked like a ghost, and Jack Kennedy was
very nervous.” Jack justified his decision by saying that Johnson
“would be so mean as Majority Leader — that it was much better
having him as Vice President where you could control him.” Ken-
nedy also tried to leave the question open by saying that he could
not “see any reason in the world why [Johnson] would want it.”
One of the labor leaders warned, “If you do this, you’re going to
fuck everything up.” They threatened to block Johnson’s nomination
with a floor fight.
     Jack and Bobby spent the afternoon trying to resolve the
dilemma. Bobby went to see Johnson at about 2 P.M. to describe the
opposition and suggest that he might want to be Democratic
national chairman instead of vice president. When Johnson refused
to see Bobby, he gave the message to Sam Rayburn, who fixed Bobby
with “a long look and responded simply, ‘Shit.’ ” Phil Graham then
called Jack to say that Johnson would only take the nomination if
Kennedy “drafted” him. Jack replied that “he was in a general mess
because some liberals were against LBJ.” Kennedy asked Graham to
call back in three minutes, when he would finish a meeting and have
a decision. During their next conversation, Kennedy told Graham,
“It’s all set. . . . Tell Lyndon I want him.”
                     An Unfinished Life    #   273

     But Jack remained unsure. He sent word to Johnson through
Rayburn that he would call him directly at about 3 P.M. When no
call came, Graham called Jack at 3:30. Though Kennedy promised to
call Johnson at once, “he then again mentioned opposition to LBJ
and asked for my judgment.” Graham predicted that southern gains
would surpass liberal losses and urged against any change in plans.
Shortly after 4:00 P.M., Johnson summoned Graham, who reported
that Bobby had just been back and urged him to “withdraw for the
sake of the party.” As Bobby remembered it, he told Johnson that
there was a lot of opposition and that his brother “didn’t think he
wanted to go through that kind of unpleasant fight.” Instead, Jack
wanted him to run the party, and he could put his people in control
as a prelude to running for president in eight years. Bobby recalled
that Johnson looked like “he’d burst into tears. I didn’t know if it
was just an act or anything. But he just shook and tears came into
his eyes, and he said, ‘I want to be Vice President, and if the Presi-
dent will have me, I’ll join with him in making a fight for it.’ ” Bobby
then reversed course and responded, “Well, then, that’s fine. He
wants you to be Vice President if you want to be Vice President.”
     Amid the confusion, Graham now called Jack again. Kennedy,
to hide his own ambivalence and reassure Johnson, told Graham,
“Bobby’s been out of touch and doesn’t know what’s been happen-
ing.” Graham believed that Bobby had acted on his own in trying to
bar Johnson from the ticket. Bobby disputed this: “With the close
relationship between my brother and me, I wasn’t going down to see
if he would withdraw just as a lark on my own.” His explanation
rings true. Jack was trying to avoid a fight with liberals, but ulti-
mately he was less concerned about offending them than with the
price of forcing Johnson off the ticket and then seeing him do noth-
ing for, or even quietly oppose, his election in the South.
     Kennedy was not alone in his calculations. More realistic liberals
saw Johnson as adding strength to the ticket and had no interest in
dividing the party and helping to elect Nixon. Realizing this, and
because Johnson promised to support the party’s civil rights plank,
they backed away from a floor fight. The Kennedys further finessed
the issue at the convention by suspending the rules and asking for a
voice ballot just before the voting reached Michigan, the delegation
most likely to oppose Johnson. Although the shouted “ayes” and
“nays” seemed about evenly divided, Governor LeRoy Collins of
Florida, the convention chairman, declared that two thirds of the
                   274   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

delegates had concurred and announced Johnson’s nomination by
acclamation. Eisenhower, who remembered Johnson’s warnings
about Kennedy, told journalist Earl Mazo, “I turned on the television
and there was that son of a bitch becoming a vice-presidential candi-
date with this ‘dangerous man.’ ”

HAVING SECURED THE NOMINATION through an exhausting cam-
paign and settled the vice presidential dispute without serious polit-
ical damage, Kennedy confronted the election battle with relief and
excitement. He saw much work to be done and numerous political
shoals to be navigated, but he was clear on the central theme or
principal direction of his campaign. He shared a belief with most
commentators and analysts that America had lost its sense of
national purpose, that the material well-being of the 1950s had
translated into a “bland, vapid, self-satisfied, banal” society lacking
the moral resolve to meet domestic and world problems. “The pros-
perity of the Eisenhower age is a deceptive sign of vigor and health,”
Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz declared. He complained of
the “boredom one senses on all sides, the torpor, the anxiety, the
listlessness.” Literary critic Dwight Macdonald described Americans
as “an unhappy people, a people without style, without a sense of
what is humanly satisfying.” Adlai Stevenson feared that the fifties
would end up like the twenties, when private gain had eclipsed pub-
lic concern and then ended in disaster. Stevenson asked, “With the
supermarket as our temple and the singing commercial as our litany,
are we likely to fire the world with an irresistible vision of America’s
exalted purposes and inspiring way of life?”
     Kennedy also saw the need to reestablish a sense of shared pur-
pose, of inspirational goals, at the center of his campaign. Could an
America that had become the richest, most comfortable society in
world history stand up to the communist challenge? Were we as
ready to make the kind of sacrifices the ideologues in Moscow and
Peking urged upon their peoples in the long struggle they foresaw
with the United States? Could we be as fired as the revolutionaries in
Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and Africa?
     In an early-evening acceptance speech at the Los Angeles Coli-
seum before eighty thousand people and a television audience of
millions, Kennedy sounded his theme. Close observers agreed that
his speech was imperfectly delivered: Kennedy was exhausted by the
exertions of the last few days and partly blinded by the setting sun.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   275

(His disappointing performance convinced him in the future to in-
crease the amounts of steroids he normally took whenever he faced
the stress of giving a major speech or press conference.) Although
the speech, to which a number of writers, including Ted Sorensen,
made contributions, was a familiar recitation of campaign themes, it
nevertheless was a memorable appeal to the country to renew its
commitment to larger goals than personal, self-serving ones.
    Early on he addressed the opportunity Americans had to over-
come an unspoken religious test for election to the highest office:
“The Democratic Party, by nominating someone of my faith, has
taken on . . . a new and hazardous risk,” he said. The answer to any-
one who believed that his religion would hinder him as president
was his record of rejecting “any kind of religious pressure or obliga-
tion that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of
the Presidency in the national interest. . . . I am telling you now what
you are entitled to know: that my decisions on every public policy
will be my own — as an American, a Democrat and a free man.”
    More important than this parochial issue were the larger prob-
lems of war and peace, of economic and social justice, and of the
willingness of Americans to commit themselves to these noble ends.
“Today our concern must be with the future,” Kennedy announced.
“For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will
not do. Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and
more terrible weapons — new and uncertain nations — new pres-
sures of population and deprivation. . . . The world has been close to
war before — but now man, who has survived all previous threats to
his existence, has taken into his mortal hands the power to extermi-
nate the entire species some seven times over. Here at home, the
changing face of the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal
and the Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations — but
this is a new generation. . . .
    “Too many Americans have lost their way, their will and their
sense of historic purpose,” Kennedy asserted. “It is a time, in short,
for a new generation of leadership — new men to cope with new
problems and new opportunities. . . . I stand tonight facing west on
what was once the last frontier,” Kennedy said with evident passion
and conviction. “From the lands that stretch three thousand miles
behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort
and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West.
They were not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of
                   276   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

their own price tags. Their motto was not ‘every man for himself ’ —
but ‘all for the common cause.’ . . . We stand today on the edge of a
New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960s — a frontier of unknown
opportunities and perils — a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.”
     Kennedy had little use for slogans. But he understood that to
mobilize Americans, he needed a captivating image, and the New
Frontier was Kennedy’s way of communicating the challenge, the
country’s fresh rendezvous with greatness. “The New Frontier of
which I speak,” he explained, “is not a set of promises — it is a set of
challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American
people, but what I intend to ask of them. . . . Can a nation organized
and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have
we the nerve and the will? . . . Are we up to the task — are we equal
to the challenge? . . . That is the question of the New Frontier. That
is the choice our nation must make — a choice . . . between the pub-
lic interest and the private comfort — between national greatness
and national decline. . . . All mankind waits upon our decision. A
whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust,
we cannot fail to try.”

THE JULY DAYS after the convention were a heady time for Jack and
his whole family. He had gained the second most coveted prize in
American politics — a presidential nomination — and now stood
only one campaign away from becoming the thirty-fourth American
ever to reach the White House. Initial polls following the Demo-
cratic convention gave Jack a 17 to 22 percent lead in the five biggest
states — California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
    A prominent member of a famous family, Kennedy had long
known what it was like to be under public scrutiny. But the attention
accorded him and his family after the nomination surpassed any-
thing he or his famous father had ever experienced. To recuperate
from the months of traveling and the pressures of the convention,
Jack flew from Los Angeles to Hyannis Port to rest, swim, cruise on
the family yacht, sun himself with Bobby and others on lawn chairs,
and talk about the coming campaign. Jackie, who was five months
pregnant, was to take almost no part in the general election.
    Arthur Schlesinger Jr. remembers a visit to the Kennedy com-
pound on a “shining summer Saturday. . . . The once placid Cape
Cod village had lost its wistful tranquillity. It looked more like a
town under military occupation, or a place where dangerous crimi-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   277

nals or wild beasts were at large. Everywhere were roadblocks, cor-
dons of policemen, photographers with cameras slung over their
shoulders . . . tourists in flashy shirts and shorts waiting expectantly
as if for a revelation. The atmosphere of a carnival or a hanging
prevailed. . . . A stockade now half surrounded the Kennedy com-
pound, and the approach was like crossing a frontier, with docu-
ments demanded every ten feet.”
     Schlesinger “had never seen Kennedy in better form — more
relaxed, funny and free.” The afternoon was spent cruising serenely
for several hours off the Cape, with Martha’s Vineyard dimly out-
lined in the distance. Swimming, cocktails, luncheon, and convers-
ation filled a perfect day. But politics remained near to hand. Jack,
Bobby, O’Brien, O’Donnell, Powers, Salinger, Sorensen, and Joe were
all churning in anticipation of launching the fight for the greatest
prize, and after only two days of rest at the Cape, Jack and Bobby
plunged into a series of planning meetings, strategy sessions, and
unity discussions with party rivals. Bobby summed up their outlook:
“run and fight and scramble for ten weeks all the way.”
     Bobby gave new meaning to the term “hardball”: There was
nothing subtle about his approach. “Gentlemen,” he told a group
of New York reform Democrats, “I don’t give a damn if the state
and county organizations survive after November, and I don’t give
a damn if you survive. I want to elect John F. Kennedy.” The cam-
paign’s Florida coordinator said Bobby was “absolutely strong, steel-
willed. . . . He just was blunt and hard and tough and was of course
a magnificent campaign manager.” Party workers who displeased
him complained, “Little Brother Is Watching You.” Adlai Stevenson
dubbed him the “Black Prince,” and Eisenhower, who called Jack
“Little Boy Blue,” referred to Bobby as “that little shit.” Bobby was
mindful of all the hard feelings but not apologetic: “I’m not running
a popularity contest,” he told Hugh Sidey. “It doesn’t matter if they
like me or not. . . . If people are not getting off their behinds and
working enough, how do you say that nicely? Every time you make a
decision in this business you make somebody mad.”
     If Bobby was the taskmaster, the relentless overseer demanding
superhuman efforts from everyone, Jack was the conciliator, the can-
didate eager to bring everyone to his side in the service of progres-
sive goals. “This was a politician who knew what his duties were and
he accepted them not without relish,” Henry Brandon, the Washing-
ton correspondent for the London Sunday Times, noted in a memo
                   278   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

to himself after a conversation with Jack in June. “He is a child of his
times. He instinctively knows how to use all the techniques of the
modern mass media to his best advantage. . . . He may lack warmth,
he may be cold and calculating, but those eager to work for him
suspect or at least hope that he would follow up ideas with action.”
By contrast with Bobby, for example, whose visceral dislike of LBJ
clouded his political judgment, Jack let practical electoral calcula-
tions be his guide.
    Similarly, despite his personal antagonism toward Stevenson,
Jack met with him at the Cape at the end of July to ask for his help
with New York liberals. When Stevenson suggested the creation of a
foreign policy task force to prepare for a possible transition to the
presidency, Jack immediately agreed and asked him to head it. In
early August, Jack went to Independence, Missouri, to seek Harry
Truman’s support. Campaign imperatives dissolved his anger toward
Truman for having been against his nomination. Truman, who
despised Nixon, was receptive to Jack’s appeal. He told Abe Ribicoff,
“I never liked Kennedy. I hate his father. Kennedy wasn’t so great as
a Senator. . . . However, that no good son-of-a-bitch Dick Nixon
called me a Communist and I’ll do anything to beat him.” Asked by
reporters how he could see Kennedy as now ready for the presidency
after having described him in July as too young and inexperienced,
Truman replied with a grin, “When the Democratic convention
decided to nominate him, that’s when I decided.”
    Kennedy then traveled to Hyde Park, New York, to enlist Eleanor
Roosevelt in his cause. Like Truman, the onetime antagonist was
now eager to help. Jack gave her “the distinct feeling that he is plan-
ning to work closely with Adlai. I also had the feeling,” she wrote a
friend, “that here was a man who could learn. I liked him better
than I ever had before because he seemed so little cock-sure, and I
think he has a mind that is open to new ideas. . . . My final judge-
ment is that here is a man who wants to leave a record (perhaps for
ambitious personal reasons, as people say), but I rather think
because he really is interested in helping the people of his own
country and mankind in general. I will be surer of this as time goes
on, but I think I am not mistaken in feeling that he would make a
good President if elected.”
    Kennedy’s success with Truman, Stevenson, and Eleanor Roose-
velt did not translate into grass roots enthusiasm for his candidacy
among liberals. Although Kennedy had voiced his support for pro-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   279

gressive legislation during a special August congressional session,
liberal interest in his campaign remained flat. Part of the reason was
a lack of liberal positions on the Kennedy platform. After Stevenson
saw Jack at the Cape, he had written Mrs. Roosevelt that Kennedy’s
“interest and concentration seemed to be on organization not ideas
at this stage.” Schlesinger, who doubted the wisdom of giving high-
est priority to building a campaign organization, as Jack and Bobby
planned, told Jack at the end of August, “Organization has an im-
portant role to play, of course; but to suppose that organization
per se will win New York or California is nonsense.” Jack needed “to
elicit the all-out support of the kind of people who have tradition-
ally provided the spark in Democratic campaigns. . . . The liberals,
the reformers, the intellectuals . . . people who have entered politics,
not because it is their livelihood, but because they care deeply about
issues and principles. . . . Once the issue-minded Democrats catch
fire, then the campaign will gather steam.” Harvard professor Henry
Kissinger, “who hardly qualifies as a bleeding heart,” Schlesinger
wrote a few days later, “. . . said to me, ‘We need someone who will
take a big jump — not just improve on existing trends but produce a
new frame of mind, a new national atmosphere. If Kennedy debates
Nixon on who can best manage the status quo, he is lost. The issue
is not one technical program or another. The issue is a new epoch.’ ”
     Kennedy was receptive to Schlesinger’s prodding. “I don’t mind
criticism at this point,” he told him. “I would rather have you tell
me now than to wait until November.” In the middle of September,
Kennedy met the problem head-on with a strong speech before the
Liberal party in New York, where he sounded familiar liberal themes,
which began to evoke the sort of excitement Schlesinger saw as
essential to a winning campaign.

IT WAS APPARENT by September that much more than liberal enthu-
siasm was essential if Jack was going to beat Nixon. The Republican
convention at the end of July — a coronation of sorts for Nixon and
running mate Henry Cabot Lodge, featuring effective speeches about
the Soviet challenge and the nominees’ superior capacity to enhance
national security — boosted Republican poll numbers. Gallup trial
heats showed Nixon ahead by 53 to 47 percent in one survey and 50
to 44 percent in another. As troubling, 31 percent of Nixon-Lodge
supporters said they were “very strongly” committed to their candi-
dates, while only 22 percent of Kennedy-Johnson backers expressed
                   280   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

the same intensity. Happily, from Kennedy’s viewpoint, 60 percent
of Americans said that they had paid little or no attention to the
presidential race so far.
     The Kennedys expected Nixon to fight hard and dirty. During
four years together in the House, Kennedy and Nixon had enjoyed a
civil relationship. During the fifties, however, Nixon’s campaign tac-
tics and harsh attacks on the Democrats, which echoed some of
McCarthy’s excesses, had diminished Kennedy’s regard for him. To
be behind in the polls before Nixon unleashed any trademark kid-
ney punches was discouraging.
     By the end of August, a new poll showed Nixon and Kennedy
locked in a dead heat. Neither man had convinced a majority of vot-
ers that he was better qualified to be president. Nixon’s reputation for
excessive partisanship and Kennedy’s youth and Catholicism dulled
public enthusiasm for seeing one or the other in the White House.
     Despite the improvement in Jack’s public standing, the Kennedys
were still distressed. While Nixon moved freely about the country in
August, emphasizing his fitness for the highest office, the special
congressional session kept Jack tied down in Washington. Teddy
White saw a firsthand demonstration of the Kennedy frustration dur-
ing a visit to Jack’s campaign headquarters. While he sat chatting
with two Kennedy staffers, Bobby emerged from an inner office and
began to shout: “ ‘What are you doing?! What are we all doing? Let’s
get on the road! Let’s get on the road tomorrow! I want us all on the
road tomorrow!’ And without waiting for a reply, he clapped the
door shut and disappeared.”
     Fueling Bobby’s explosion were emerging attacks on Jack’s char-
acter and record that put him on the defensive and distracted him
from an affirmative appeal to voters. In response, the campaign pro-
duced a “Counterattack Sourcebook” for use in answering deroga-
tory assertions about Kennedy’s religion, health, inexperience,
profligate campaign spending, voting record on labor, civil liberties,
and civil rights, opposition to southern interests, Senate attendance,
response to McCarthyism, and opposition to France’s repressive
Algerian policy.
     Warnings that Kennedy’s Catholicism and youth made him unfit
for the White House worried Jack and Bobby the most. “Senator
Kennedy is an attractive young man, but he is untrained for the job
of President,” Republicans asserted. He had never held an executive
position or had any experience in strategic military planning or in
                     An Unfinished Life    #   281

dealing with the communists. At the age of forty-three,“he would be
the youngest man ever elected to the White House,” and at the age
of thirty-one, his “wife is too young to be First Lady.” John Kenneth
Galbraith told the brothers that after speaking with more than “a
hundred journalists, farm leaders, dirt farmers and Democratic pro-
fessionals,” he had concluded that “religion in the rural corn belt,
Great Plains and down into rural Texas has become an issue greater
than either income or peace. . . . In the absence of a clear view of
what either candidate stands for or can do about these issues, reli-
gion is entering as a deciding factor.” And the complaints came from
both sides: Some prominent Catholics were unhappy with Jack’s
opposition to “the Catholic position on many public issues.”
     A more muted concern was gossip about Jack’s womanizing. In
June 1959, the FBI had received letters and a photograph “contain-
ing allegations regarding personal immorality on the part of Jack
Kennedy. Apparently,” the FBI’s memo noted, “this data has received
widespread distribution — correspondent allegedly sent copies to
‘about thirty-five reporters.’ ” The memo also noted that “some
months ago,” the Bureau “had received from a reliable source infor-
mation . . . on Senator Kennedy’s sex life. You will also recall that we
have detailed substantial information in Bu[reau] files reflecting that
Kennedy carried on an illicit relationship with another man’s wife
during World War II.” In March 1960, the agent in charge of the
New Orleans Bureau office reported that members of the mob,
in conjunction with Frank Sinatra, were financially supporting Ken-
nedy’s campaign. The agent also related “a conversation which indi-
cated that Senator Kennedy had been compromised with a woman
in Las Vegas, Nevada.” There were also reports that an airline hostess
in Miami had been “sent to visit Sen. Kennedy.” In May, the Bureau
received a photo published in a right-wing newspaper of Jack “leav-
ing his girlfriend’s house at 1 o’clock in the morning. She is a glam-
our employee of his.”
     Rumors about Kennedy’s philandering were so common that
Henry Van Dusen of the Union Theological Seminary in New York
asked Adlai Stevenson “to sit down with . . . some . . . friends who
would like to silence the stories about Senator Kennedy.” But Steven-
son, who knew “nothing himself first hand,” was unwilling to give
credence to the gossip. He believed that Kennedy “may have been
overactive in that direction prior to 1955,” when acute back prob-
lems had put his survival in doubt. But after a series of operations
                   282   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

gave him “a normal expectancy he seems to have settled down to
preparing himself for his ambition — the Presidency.” Stevenson
found confirmation for this conclusion in the fact that “most of the
stories about his private life seem to date from 1955 and before. My
view, therefore, is that such rumors are out of date and largely
unsubstantiated. And I must add even if they were true they would
hardly seem to be crucial when the alternative is Nixon! Having
been the victim of ugly rumors myself, I find this whole business
distasteful in the extreme!”
     Stevenson was not the only one who saw public discussion of an
elected official’s sex life as out of bounds. William Randolph Hearst,
the great press baron who was “a pioneer of slash-and-burn assaults
on public figures,” drew the line at probing into private lives, and
Hearst — vulnerable himself to charges of being a libertine — was
quite representative of media mores in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Humphrey, Johnson, Nixon, and even Jimmy Hoffa, who despised
the Kennedys and would have done almost anything to beat Jack,
said many unflattering things about him, but, in a universe of harsh
assaults on political enemies, discussions of sexual escapades crossed
the line. The thirty-five reporters mentioned in the FBI memo, for
example, never used the information in a story. It may be that they
could not find sufficient confirmation of the rumors. Or, in Nixon’s
case, like Hearst, he may have feared attacks on himself as a hypo-
crite. Congressman Richard Bolling had heard stories about Nixon’s
having a girlfriend, and Bolling learned that Joe Kennedy was ready
to unleash an airing of such if Nixon made an issue of Jack’s philan-
dering. But the standards of the time made such a tit for tat almost
impossible to imagine, and Jack did not worry that his womanizing
would play any significant part in the campaign, unlike attacks on
his religion and youth.
     Religion remained an obstacle. On September 7, the New York
Times carried a front-page article about the ironically named National
Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, an organization of
150 Protestant ministers led by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale; they said
that the Roman Catholic Church, with its dual role as both a church
and a temporal state, made Kennedy’s faith a legitimate issue in the
campaign. Like Khrushchev, one member declared, Kennedy was
“a captive of a system.” Although the clergymen were all conservative
Republicans eager for Nixon’s election (and were guilty of trans-
parent hypocrisy in doing what they said Kennedy’s church would
                    An Unfinished Life    #   283

do — interfere in secular politics), their political machinations did
not cancel out the effects of their warnings.
    Estimates suggested that unless this propaganda was countered
and the anti-Catholic bias overcome, Kennedy’s religion might cost
him as many as 1.5 million votes. The Kennedy campaign quickly
organized a Community Relations division to meet the religious
problem head-on. James Wine, a staff member at the National
Council of Churches, headed the operation. Wine was as busy as any
member of Jack’s campaign team, answering between six hundred
and a thousand letters a week and urging lay and clerical Protestants
to combat the explicit and implicit anti-Catholicism in so much of
the anti-Kennedy rhetoric.
    A highly effective and much publicized appearance Kennedy
made before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, on
September 12 helped. Bobby, Jack’s campaign staff, Johnson, and
Rayburn all advised against the appearance. “They’re mostly Repub-
licans and they’re out to get you,” Rayburn told Kennedy. But
Kennedy believed he had to confront the issue sometime, and he
wanted to do it early in the campaign so that he could move on to
more constructive matters. “I’m getting tired of these people who
think I want to replace the gold at Fort Knox with a supply of holy
water,” he told O’Donnell and Powers. In fact, his knowledge of
Church doctrine and ties to the Church were so limited that he
brought in John Cogley, a Catholic scholar, to coach him in prepara-
tion for his appearance.
    Although he saw his speech and response to audience questions,
which were to follow his remarks, as a crucial moment in the cam-
paign, Kennedy went before the audience of three hundred in Hous-
ton’s Rice Hotel Crystal ballroom (and the millions of television
viewers around the country) with no hesitation or obvious sign of
nervousness. The sincerity of what he had to say armed him against
his adversaries and conveyed a degree of inner surety that converted
a few opponents and persuaded some undecided voters that he had
the maturity and balance to become a fine president.
    He began his speech by emphasizing that although the religious
question was the one before them tonight, he saw “far more criti-
cal issues in the 1960 election . . . for war and hunger and igno-
rance and despair know no religious barrier.” But his religion was
the immediate concern, and he stated his views and intentions with-
out equivocation. He declared his belief in “an America where the
                   284   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

separation of church and state is absolute. . . . I believe in a Presi-
dent whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither
imposed on him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him
as a condition to holding that office. . . . I am not the Catholic can-
didate for President,” he declared. “I am the Democratic Party’s candi-
date for President, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak
for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak
for me. . . . If the time should ever come . . . when my office would
require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national
interest, then I would resign the office, and I would hope that any
other conscientious public servant would do likewise.” He ended
with a plea for religious tolerance that would serve the national well-
being. “If this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Amer-
icans lost their chance of being President on the day they were
baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes
of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of his-
tory, and in the eyes of our people.”
    Although some of the questions that followed showed an indif-
ference to his pledges, he responded with such poise and restraint
that the ministers stood and applauded at the close of the meeting,
and some came forward to shake his hand and wish him well in the
campaign. Rayburn, who watched the speech on television, shouted,
“By God, look at him — and listen to him! He’s eating them blood
raw. This young feller will be a great President!”

THE HOUSTON APPEARANCE temporarily muted the religious issue
and allowed Kennedy to concentrate on convincing voters that he
was not too young or inexperienced to be president. The surest way
to counter these assertions was to compete directly with Nixon in a
debate. Eisenhower advised Nixon against accepting the unprece-
dented challenge of a televised confrontation: He was much better
known than Kennedy, had eight years of executive experience as vice
president, and had established himself as an effective spokesman
and defender of the national interest by standing up to a stone-
throwing mob in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1958 and to Khrushchev in
the Moscow “kitchen debate” in 1959. But Nixon relished con-
frontations with adversaries and, remembering his successful ap-
pearance before the T V cameras in the 1952 campaign (his Checkers
speech — a response to allegations of accepting illegal gifts — was
the most successful use of television by an American politician to
                     An Unfinished Life    #   285

that date), he agreed to four debates. He also believed that saying no
to a debate could cost him politically in the new T V age.
    Kennedy was as confident, especially after his Houston appear-
ance, that he could establish himself as more worthy of the White
House by besting or even just holding his own against Nixon before
the press and millions of T V viewers. Either outcome would refute
assertions about his being too immature to merit election.
    Consequently, on the evening of September 26, in Chicago’s
CBS studio, the two candidates joined Howard K. Smith, the moder-
ator, and a four-member panel of television reporters to discuss
campaign issues before some seventy million Americans, nearly two
thirds of the country’s adult population. Kennedy had spent most
of the day preparing responses to possible questions. As campaign
historian Theodore White described him, Kennedy lay on his bed in
the Ambassador East Hotel dressed in a white, V-neck T-shirt and
khaki pants and holding a pack of “fact cards” prepared by aides; he
reviewed a variety of topics, tossing each card onto the floor as he
finished a subject. Suggestions from his speechwriters for an eight-
minute opening statement did not satisfy him, and he dictated his
own version to a secretary.
    Although he and Nixon spent a great part of the contest arguing
over specific issues, Kennedy gained an early advantage by address-
ing his opening statement directly to the American people. He did
the same in his closing statement. By contrast, Nixon used his intro-
duction and summary to draw contrasts between himself and
Kennedy. The difference was telling: Kennedy came across as a leader
who intended to deal with the nation’s greatest problems; Nixon
registered on voters as someone trying to gain an advantage over an
adversary. Nixon’s language was restrained, but in comparison to
Kennedy he came off as unstatesmanlike, confirming the negative
impression many had of him from earlier House, Senate, and vice
presidential campaigns. Henry Cabot Lodge, his running mate, who
had urged Nixon not to be abrasive, said as the debate ended, “That
son of a bitch just lost the election.”
    Kennedy, as was universally agreed, also got the better of Nixon
because he looked more relaxed, more in command of himself, or,
as Theodore White wrote, “calm and nerveless. . . . The Vice-President,
by contrast, was tense, almost frightened, at turns glowering and,
occasionally, haggard-looking to the point of sickness.” The camera
showed Nixon “half slouched, his ‘Lazy Shave’ powder faintly streaked
                     286    #   ROBERT         DALLEK

with sweat, his eyes exaggerated hollows of blackness, his jaws,
jowls, and face drooping with strain.” (“My God!” Mayor Daley said,
“They’ve embalmed him before he even died.”) In addition, against
the light gray stage backdrop, Nixon, dressed in a light gray suit,
“faded into a fuzzed outline, while Kennedy in his dark suit had the
crisp picture edge of contrast.” Not yet fully recovered from a recent
hospitalization to care for an infected knee injured in an accident,
and exhausted by intense campaigning, Nixon appeared scrawny
and listless. Ironically, Kennedy, whose medical problems greatly ex-
ceeded anything Nixon had, appeared to be the picture of robust
good health.* Kennedy further seized the advantage during the de-
bate when he looked bored or amused as Nixon spoke, as if he were
thinking, “How silly.”
    At the end of the debate, as they stood on stage exchanging
pleasantries, Nixon, watching photographers out of the corner of his
eye, “put a stern expression on his face and started jabbing his finger
into my chest, so he would look as if he were laying down the law to
me about foreign policy or Communism,” Kennedy said. Again, the
image was not one of command but of a schoolyard bully.

ALTHOUGH POLLS and larger, more enthusiastic crowds encour-
aged the belief that Kennedy had won the first debate, he knew it
would be folly to take a lead for granted. And by contrast with T V
viewers, the radio audience thought that Nixon had defeated
Kennedy, demonstrating how important the contrasting visual
images were before the cameras. Kennedy saw the race as still too
close to call, and as likely to turn on voter feelings about past and
current Republican failings. Attacks on the GOP, however, needed to

*Somebody in the Nixon campaign might have thought otherwise: Attempts to
steal records from two of Kennedy’s doctors’ New York offices may have been
the work of Nixon aides trying to build on Johnson’s accusations, which,
according to New York Times columnist William Safire, had been passed along
to them by a “disgruntled” LBJ supporter unhappy with JFK’s nomination.
Although forty-two years later, participants in the Nixon campaign and others
sympathetic to Nixon emphatically denied the allegation, the episodes certainly
can be read as preludes to Watergate and a break-in at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychia-
trist’s office in Beverly Hills. Moreover, John Ehrlichman, an advance man in the
1960 campaign, acknowledged “dirty tricks” on both sides. None of this is a
clear demonstration that a Nixon operative tried to steal Kennedy’s medical
records, but it is plausible. Who else but the Nixon campaign would have bene-
fited from obtaining them?
                     An Unfinished Life    #   287

exclude mention of Eisenhower, who remained popular. Journalist
John Bartlow Martin, who had written speeches for Stevenson and
was now doing the same for Kennedy, urged Jack to answer com-
plaints that improper makeup had hurt Nixon in the debate by say-
ing, “No matter how many makeup experts they bring into the
television studio, it’s still the same old Richard Nixon and it’s still
the same old Republican party.” The way to capture “the large body
of independents,” a document on “Campaign Reflections” stated,
was by highlighting “the demerits of Mr. Nixon.” The staff put to-
gether “a nearly exhaustive volume of Nixon quotes” containing “an
up-to-date analysis of contradictions and inconsistencies in Nixon
statements over the years.” Kennedy portrayed Nixon as a conven-
tional reactionary. “I stand today where Woodrow Wilson stood, and
Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman stood,” Jack said. “Dick Nixon
stands where McKinley stood, where Harding and Coolidge and
Landon stood, where Dewey stood. Where do they get those can-
    Eisenhower helped. Ike had long been sensitive to suggestions
that he had “reigned rather than ruled,” and he personally resented
suggestions by Nixon that the vice president had been running the
government. When a journalist asked the president to name a single
major idea of the vice president’s that he had adopted, he replied, “If
you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.”
    Yet however assailable Nixon was as a contradictory figure and
an abrasive personality — Ike’s secretary described him as someone
who was “acting like a nice man rather than being one” — it was
his identification with recent economic and foreign policy stumbles
that made him most vulnerable to defeat. And those were the
issues, under the heading “Let’s Get the Country Moving Again,” on
which Kennedy criticized him most effectively in the last weeks of
the campaign.
    Although Kennedy had no well-developed economic program
to put before voters, he was able to point to a number of problems
that had bedeviled Eisenhower and Nixon. Between 1953 and 1959,
economic growth had averaged only 2.4 percent a year, compared
with 5.8 percent since 1939 under the Democrats; the industrialized
economies of Western Europe and Japan were expanding faster
than America’s, while, according to CIA estimates, recent Soviet in-
creases were more than 7 percent a year. The fifties had also seen two
recessions, joblessness and underemployment at 7 percent, rising
                   288   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

inflation, and a gold drain produced by an unfavorable balance of
payments. Another economic downturn beginning in April 1960
and lasting through the campaign gave resonance to Kennedy’s com-
plaints. When Nixon asserted that unemployment would not be a
significant issue unless it exceeded 4.5 million, Kennedy replied,
“I . . . think it would become a significant issue to the 4,499,000 . . .
     “Foreign policy for the first time in many years will be the great
issue, as Mr. Nixon has so often told us,” Kennedy wrote former
secretary of state Dean Acheson, and despite Nixon’s credentials as
an anticommunist, Kennedy believed that his own travels, writings,
public addresses, and service on the Foreign Relations Committee
made him more than a match for the vice president. Kennedy’s 1958
Foreign Affairs article, “A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy,” and
a 225-page book published in 1960, The Strategy of Peace, a com-
pilation of his recent speeches on international affairs and national
security, were meant to show that he had prepared himself to
manage the great overseas challenges certain to confront the next
     In July 1960, Gallup reported that “the overwhelming majority
of those interviewed regard relations with Russia and the rest of the
world as being the primary problem facing the nation today.” Fidel
Castro’s pro-Soviet regime in Cuba, coupled with Khrushchev’s
warnings that Moscow was grinding out missiles like sausages and
that communism would bury capitalism, stirred fears of attack
against which the United States had no apparent defense. When
people in cities around the world were asked if U.S. prestige had
increased or decreased in the last year, 45 percent said it had
decreased and only 22 percent believed it had increased.
     Kennedy saw clear political advantages in emphasizing inter-
national dangers to the United States. In August 1958, he had given
his notable Senate speech on the missile gap. Warning that America
was about to lose its advantage over the Soviet Union in nuclear
weapons, he quoted air force general James Gavin, who saw “our
own offensive and defensive Missile capabilities” lagging “so far
behind those of the Soviets as to place us in a position of great
peril.” Kennedy asserted that the Soviet combination of interconti-
nental and intermediate-range missiles, “history’s largest fleet of sub-
marines,” and long-range supersonic jet bombers might give them
the ability to “destroy 85 percent of our industry, 43 of our 50
                     An Unfinished Life   #   289

largest cities, and most of the Nation’s population.” He added, “We
tailored our strategy and military requirements to fit our budget” —
instead of the other way around. Over the next two years, Kennedy
repeatedly came back to this problem in his public pronounce-
ments, so much so that in September 1960, John Kenneth Galbraith
complained to Lou Harris, “J.F.K. has made the point that he isn’t
soft. Henceforth he can only frighten.”
     In August 1960, when the public gave higher marks to the Re-
publicans than the Democrats as the party best able to manage world
peace, Kennedy intensified his efforts to publicize the Eisenhower-
Nixon shortcomings on defense. But his focus on relative U.S. mili-
tary weakness was not strictly motivated by politics. He had genuine
concerns that America was facing a crisis that demanded new think-
ing and initiatives. In this, he was following the lead of many de-
fense experts who warned that the United States was falling behind
the Soviets. In addition to Gavin, H. Rowan Gaither Jr., of the Ford
Foundation, who had chaired a committee studying national secu-
rity in the atomic age, concluded that “our active defenses are not
adequate” and our passive or civilian defenses “insignificant.”
“Gaither practically predicted the end of Western civilization,” one
historian said. Gaither also described the Soviets as having a more
expansive economy than the United States, as spending more on
defense, and as out-building the U.S. in nuclear weapons, ICBMs,
IRBMs, submarines, and air defenses, not to mention space tech-
     Whether the gap existed was, even at the time, debatable. Eisen-
hower had solid evidence from U-2 spy planes that there was no
missile gap, and he instructed his military chiefs to persuade
Kennedy of this, but Eisenhower’s fear of leaks and his conviction
that Kennedy would lose made him reluctant to share his sources.
He also believed that authoritative denials of a gap would agitate the
Soviets into a buildup; as long as the public record suggested that
Moscow was getting ahead of the United States, Ike assumed that
Khrushchev would hold back from investing in a large, costly expan-
sion of ICBMs. But the administration’s reluctance to give Kennedy
fuller information persuaded Jack that Eisenhower did not want to
acknowledge a failing that could cost Nixon the election. Kennedy
was in possession of numbers showing frightening and growing gaps
between Soviet and American military strength. When he asked CIA
director Allen Dulles about the missile gap, Dulles replied that only
                   290   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

the Pentagon could properly answer the question. It was a signal to
Kennedy that Dulles did not have enough information to rule out
the possibility of a significant Soviet advantage.
    Other Democrats warned Kennedy that Nixon would not only
deny the reality of our defense problem but, if this did not work,
would then try to blame the country’s vulnerability on the Demo-
crats. Indeed, Nixon hoped to scare voters into thinking that Ken-
nedy would either risk war with an unnecessary buildup or continue
his party’s alleged policies of failing to invest enough in defense.
Kennedy may have known about a Nixon memo to Attorney General
William Rogers asking him to supply information for speeches
showing that JFK “would be a very dangerous President, dangerous
to the cause of peace and dangerous from the standpoint of surren-
der.” But it was a tactical blunder: The missile gap was an easy issue
to explain to voters, and it was hard for Nixon to escape the box
Eisenhower and Kennedy had put him in.
    While Kennedy truly cared about the possibility of a missile gap,
political opportunism was more at work in his response to Castro’s
Cuba. Frustration at the rise of a communist regime “ninety miles
from America’s shore” was an irresistible campaign issue, especially
in Florida, an electoral battleground. To be sure, Kennedy was sin-
cerely concerned about the potential dangers to the United States
from a communist regime in Latin America. “What are the Soviets’
eventual intentions?” a prescient staff memo written early in the
campaign asked. “Do they intend to use Cuba as a center for Com-
munist expansion in Latin America, or as a missile base to offset
ours in other countries?” Dean Acheson counseled Kennedy to “stop
talking about Cuba — I didn’t think this was getting anywhere. . . .
He was likely to get himself hooked into positions which would be
difficult afterwards,” Acheson remembered later. He urged Kennedy
to focus instead on broad foreign policy questions. But the political
advantage in emphasizing that Castro’s ascent had come on the
Eisenhower-Nixon watch was too inviting to ignore. The potency of
the issue led to overreach: In October the campaign issued a state-
ment that suggested Kennedy favored unilateral intervention in
Cuba. The outcry from liberals, who warned against ignoring Latin
American sensibilities, and from Nixon, who favored intervention
but cynically condemned Kennedy’s statement as a dangerous chal-
lenge to Moscow, forced Jack to amend the statement and take Ache-
son’s advice about dropping Cuba as a fit topic of discussion.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   291

     Civil rights was an even more difficult issue to manage in the
campaign. The conflict between pressures for economic, political,
and social justice for black Americans and southern determination
to maintain the system of de jure and de facto segregation presented
Kennedy with no good political options. He was mindful of the
political advantages to himself from a large black turnout, and of the
transparent moral claims to equal treatment under the law for an
abused and disadvantaged minority. But he was also greatly con-
cerned with the counterpressure from white southerners who were
antagonistic to the Democratic party’s advanced position on civil
rights. Virginia senator A. Willis Robertson reflected the division in
the party in a letter to Kennedy saying he would support the entire
party ticket in November but refused to “endorse and support the
civil rights plank that was written into our Party platform over the
protests of the delegates from Virginia and other Southern States.”
LBJ’s vice presidential nomination had been, as intended, some sol-
ace to southerners, but not enough to counter Kennedy’s aggressive
commitment to civil rights.
     Once again, political imperatives determined Kennedy’s course
of action. Liberals were already angry at Johnson’s selection, and if
Kennedy gave in to southern pressure on civil rights, it would mean
losing their support (not to mention black votes). Kennedy signaled
his intentions by writing Robertson, “I understand the problem the
platform presents to you,” but he offered nothing more than the
“hope [that] it will be possible for us to work together in the fall.”
     Kennedy was not happy about having to choose between the
party’s competing factions, but once he chose, he moved forward.
When he saw civil rights advocate Harris Wofford in August, he said,
“Now in five minutes, tick off the ten things a President ought to do
to clean up this goddamn civil rights mess.” Although he was
uncomfortable adopting an aggressive civil rights agenda, he never-
theless followed all of Wofford’s suggestions: They set up a civil
rights section in the campaign and appointed Marjorie Lawson, a
black woman, and William Dawson of Chicago, the senior black
congressman, to head the division; chose Frank Reeves, who had
NAACP contacts all over the country, to travel with Kennedy;
enlisted the help of Louis Martin, a black publisher, to handle a vari-
ety of media assignments; paid $50,000 to New York congressman
Adam Clayton Powell, who enjoyed “wide popular appeal among
blacks,” to give ten speeches; and encouraged the Reverend Joseph
                   292   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

Jackson of Chicago to organize a National Fellowship of Ministers
and Laymen to lead a nationwide voter registration drive among
blacks. By the end of a special congressional session in August, it
had become clear to Senator Richard Russell of Georgia that
“Kennedy will implement the Democratic platform and advocate
civil rights legislation beyond what is contained in the platform.”
     Kennedy agreed to speak before several black conventions,
praised peaceful sit-ins at segregated public facilities across the
South, criticized Eisenhower for failing to integrate public housing
“with one stroke of the pen,” and sponsored a national advisory
conference on civil rights. In a speech, he described civil rights as a
“moral question” and promised not only to support legislation but
also to take executive action “on a bold and large scale.” And the
more he said, the more he felt. By the close of the campaign, he had
warmed to the issue and spoke with indignation about American
racism. After Henry Cabot Lodge announced that Nixon would
appoint a black to his cabinet — which angered Nixon — Kennedy
declared on Meet the Press that jobs in government should go to the
best-qualified people, regardless of race or ethnicity. But he empha-
sized the need to bring blacks into the higher reaches of govern-
ment. “There are no Federal District Judges — there are 200-odd of
them; not a one is a Negro,” he said. “We have about 26 Negroes in
the entire Foreign Service of 6,000, so that particularly now with the
importance of Africa, Asia and all the rest, I do believe we should
make a greater effort to encourage fuller participation on all levels,
of all the talent we can get — Negro, white, of any race.”
     Nothing tested Kennedy’s support of black rights during the
campaign more than the jailing of Martin Luther King. Arrested for
trying to integrate a restaurant in an Atlanta department store and
then sentenced to a four-month prison term at hard labor for violat-
ing his probation on a minor, trumped-up traffic violation, King was
sent to a rural Georgia prison. His wife, who was five months preg-
nant, feared for his life. In October, two weeks before the election,
she called Wofford to ask his help in arranging King’s release. The
desperation in her voice moved Wofford to call Sargent Shriver and
ask for Kennedy’s moral support. After O’Donnell, Salinger, and
Sorensen — who, fearful of losing southern votes, seemed certain to
object — had left the room, Shriver urged Jack to call Mrs. King.
Kennedy, partly out of political calculation and partly from sympa-
thy for the Kings, made the call at once. Jack expressed concern for
King’s well-being and offered to help in any way he could.
                     An Unfinished Life    #   293

     When Bobby Kennedy learned of the call, he upbraided the in-
stigators for risking Jack’s defeat in three southern states that might
decide the election. Still, Bobby was personally outraged at the injus-
tice of the sentence and the embarrassment to the country from the
actions of a judge he privately called a “bastard” and “a son of a
bitch.” With the story in the news, he decided to phone the judge,
who had promised Georgia’s governor, Ernest Vandiver, that he
would release King if he got political cover for himself — namely a
phone call from Jack or Bobby. Bobby’s call freed King. The Kennedy
phone calls and Nixon’s failure to do anything gave Jack a big advan-
tage among blacks and may have helped swing five states — Dela-
ware, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and South Carolina — to his side.
     And as election day results showed, every vote and every state
mattered. By the middle of October, Kennedy had surged to a 51 to
45 percent lead. On October 20, veteran Democrat Jim Farley
believed that “the situation looks marvelous” and predicted that
Kennedy would not lose many states. But with Eisenhower agreeing
to put aside health concerns and campaign in late October, and with
the public possibly having second thoughts about giving the White
House to so untested a young man, whose religion also continued to
leave doubts, Nixon closed the gap. The final Gallup poll, three days
before the election, showed a dead heat: Kennedy-Johnson, 50.5 per-
cent, to Nixon-Lodge, 49.5 percent.
     But Kennedy held an edge in a different way. At the start of the
campaign, newspaper columnist Eric Sevareid had complained that
Kennedy and Nixon were the same: tidy, buttoned-down junior
executives on the make. He saw no political passion in either man;
they were both part of the Fraternity Row crowd, “wearing the
proper clothes, thinking the proper thoughts, cultivating the proper
people.” It seemed to some that the choice was between “the lesser
of two evils.” By November, however, observers saw a striking change
in the two men. Nixon, who had started out projecting “an image
of calm, of maturity, the dignity of the experienced statesman,”
had become angry and grim. A posture of indignation had replaced
the earlier “quiet, chatty manner.” Harrison Salisbury of the New
York Times said, “The crowds tensed him up. I watched him ball his
fists, set his jaw, hurl himself stiff-legged to the barriers at the air-
ports and begin shaking hands. He was wound up like a watch
spring. . . . No ease.”
     By contrast, CBS commentator Charles Kuralt said, “the change
in Kennedy has been the reverse of the change in Nixon. It is hard to
                   294   #   ROBERT       DALLEK

recognize in the relaxed, smiling, and confident Kennedy . . . the
serious man who . . . in July . . . seemed all cold efficiency, all busi-
ness.” Eleanor Roosevelt believed, as she told Arthur Schlesinger Jr.,
that no one “in our politics since Franklin has had the same vital
relationship with crowds.” It was as if running against someone as
humorless and possibly ruthless as Nixon strengthened Kennedy’s
faith in himself — in the conviction not only that he would be a
better president but that the energy to get the job done could come
not just from within, and not just from family dynamics, but from
the sea of American faces that smiled when he stepped toward them.
     Yet for all this, Kennedy himself might have thought that Roo-
sevelt’s view was a little too romantic. He had no illusion that his
positive impact on voters was as strong as she believed. On election
night, as he watched the returns at the family’s Hyannis Port com-
pound, the results illustrated his marginal hold on the electorate.
When he went to bed at 3:30 in the morning, the election still hung
in the balance. He was reasonably sure he had won, but with Penn-
sylvania, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and California too
close to call definitively, he refused to assume a victory. Despite the
uncertainty, he was so exhausted he slept for almost six hours. When
he awoke at about nine, Ted Sorensen gave him the news in his
upstairs bedroom: He had carried all six states. In fact, California
was still a toss-up and ultimately went for Nixon, but it didn’t mat-
ter; the other five states were enough to ensure Kennedy’s election.
But even then, it was not until noon, when final returns came in, that
they knew with any certainty that he had won. Only when Nixon’s
press secretary issued a concession statement a little after that did
Kennedy agree to appear before the press in the Hyannis Port
armory as the president-elect. There, Joe Kennedy, more elated than
Jack or Bobby at winning a prize he had long hoped for, appeared in
public with Jack for the first time since the start of the campaign.
     Although Jack ended up with 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219,
his popular margin was a scant 118,574 out of 68,837,000 votes
cast. True, he and Nixon had generated enough interest to bring 64.5
percent of the electorate to the polls, one of the highest turnouts in
recent history. But he had won the presidency with only 49.72 per-
cent of the popular vote. (Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, running
as a segregationist, siphoned off 500,000 votes.) Although Kennedy
joined a long line of minority presidents, including Woodrow Wil-
son, who had gained the White House in the three-way 1912 elec-
                     An Unfinished Life    #   295

tion with barely 42 percent popular backing, it was small comfort.
Kennedy’s margin was the smallest since Grover Cleveland’s 23,000-
vote advantage over James G. Blaine in 1884, and Benjamin Harri-
son had turned back Cleveland’s bid for a second term with 65 more
electoral votes but 100,456 fewer popular votes.
     Any number of things explain Kennedy’s victory: the faltering
economy in an election year; anxiety about the nation’s apparently
diminished capacity to meet the Soviet threat; Kennedy’s decidedly
greater personal charm alongside Nixon’s abrasiveness before the
T V cameras and on the stump; Lyndon Johnson’s help in winning
seven southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North
Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas); an effective get-out-the-vote
campaign among Democrats, who, despite Eisenhower’s two elec-
tions, remained the majority party; the black vote for Kennedy;
and the backing of ethnic voters, including but much broader
than just Catholics, in big cities like New York, Buffalo, Chicago,
Newark, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Kennedy’s margins in Detroit,
Minneapolis–Saint Paul, and Kansas City helped give him 50.9,
50.6, and 50.3 percent majorities in Michigan, Minnesota, and Mis-
souri, respectively. Contributing to Kennedy’s win was an unwise
Nixon promise to visit all fifty states, which had diverted him from
concentrating on crucial swing areas toward the end of the cam-
paign. Ike’s blunder in dismissing Nixon’s claims of executive leader-
ship and his failure, because of health concerns, to take a larger role
in his vice president’s campaign may also have been decisive factors
in holding down Nixon’s late surge.
     Almost immediately, Nixon supporters complained that fraudu-
lent voting in Illinois and Texas (where Kennedy won by 8,800 and
46,000 votes, respectively) had given Kennedy the election, but the
accusations were impossible to prove. Daley’s machine probably
stole Illinois from Nixon (before the final tally was in, he reported
Illinois for Kennedy), but Jack would have won even without Illi-
nois. As for Texas, 46,000 fraudulent votes would have been more
than the most skilled manipulator of returns could have hidden.
Although Nixon publicly took the high ground by refusing to chal-
lenge the outcome, Senator Thurston B. Morton, Republican National
Committee chairman, urged state and local Republican officials in
eleven states “to take legal action on the alleged vote fraud.” But no
one could demonstrate significant fraud anywhere. Recounts in Illi-
nois and New Jersey, for example, made no change in the final vote,
                   296    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

and in other states, judges found insufficient evidence to order
recounts. However close, Kennedy’s victory represented the will of
the electorate.
    In the final analysis, the most important question is not why
Kennedy won but why his victory was so narrow. Harry Truman was
amazed at the closeness of the race. “Why, even our friend Adlai
would have had a landslide running against Nixon,” he told Senator
William Benton of Connecticut. Given the majority status of the
Democrats, the discontent over the state of the economy and inter-
national affairs, and Kennedy’s superior campaign and campaigning,
he should have gained at least 52 or 53 percent of the popular vote.
Everyone on his staff had predicted a victory of between 53 and 57
percent. The small margin shocked them. What they missed was the
unyielding fear of having a Catholic in the White House. Although
about 46 percent of Protestants voted for Kennedy, millions of them
in Ohio, Wisconsin, and across the South made his religion a deci-
sive consideration. It was the first time a candidate had won the
presidency with a minority of Protestant voters.
    Forty-three years after the election of 1960, it is difficult to imag-
ine the importance of something that no longer seems significant in
discussions about suitability for the White House. Whatever gains
and losses John Kennedy’s presidency might have brought to the
country and the world, his election in 1960 marked a great leap for-
ward in religious tolerance that has served the nation well ever since.

     The President
     Most of us enjoy preaching, and I’ve got such a bully pulpit!
       — Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

     The Presidency is not merely an administrative office.
     That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job,
     efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral
     leadership. All our great Presidents were leaders of thought
     at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation
     had to be clarified.
       — Franklin D. Roosevelt, September 11, 1932

     On my desk I have a motto which says “The buck stops
       — Harry S Truman, December 19, 1952

        The Torch Is Passed
        I am an idealist without illusions.
           — attributed to John F. Kennedy by
             Arthur Schlesinger Jr., c. 1953

JACK KENNEDY’S ELECTION to the presidency by the narrowest of
margins frustrated and exhilarated him. He was “more perplexed
than bothered by the narrowness of his victory,” Arthur Schlesinger
Jr. recalled. Kennedy was clearly “jubilant” and “deeply touched” at
becoming only the thirty-fourth American to become president. But
after seeing him, journalist Henry Brandon thought that the result
had actually somewhat “hurt his self-confidence and pride.” Ken-
nedy himself asked Kenny O’Donnell, “How did I manage to beat a
guy like this by only a hundred thousand votes?”
     But Kennedy had little time to savor or question his victory; the
transition from candidate to president-elect confronted him with
immediate new pressures. The problems he had complained of dur-
ing the campaign — an uncertain public lacking inspired leadership
in the Cold War, the missile gap, a nuclear arms race, Cuba, commu-
nism’s appeal to developing nations, a stagnant economy, and racial
injustices — were now his responsibility.
     In the seventy-two days before he took office, he had first to
overcome campaign exhaustion. The day after the election, during
the press conference at the Hyannis Port Armory, his hands, al-
though out of camera range, trembled. One reporter, responding to
Kennedy’s appearance the following day, asked whether rumors
about his health problems were true. Two weeks after the election,
when Ted Sorensen visited him at his father’s vacation retreat in Palm
Beach, he had not fully recovered. His mind was neither “keen” nor
“clear,” Sorensen recalls, and he “still seemed tired then and reluctant
                   300   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

to face up to the details of personnel and program selection.” As he
and his father drove to a Palm Beach golf course, Jack complained,
“Jesus Christ, this one wants that, that one wants this. Goddamn
it, you can’t satisfy any of these people. I don’t know what I’m going
to do about it all.” Joe responded, “Jack, if you don’t want the job,
you don’t have to take it. They’re still counting votes up in Cook
     Kennedy knew he could not afford to show any signs of flagging
in public. How could he get the country moving again or create the
sense of hope, the belief in a better national future that had been so
central to his campaign if he gave any indication of physical or psy-
chological fatigue? Thus, in response to the reporter’s question
about his health, he declared himself in “excellent” shape and dis-
missed rumors of Addison’s disease as false. “I have been through
a long campaign and my health is very good today,” he said. An
article based largely on information supplied by Bobby Kennedy
echoed Jack’s assertions. Published in Today’s Health, an American
Medical Association journal, and summarized in the New York Times,
the article described Jack as in “superb physical condition.” Though
it reported some adrenal insufficiency, which a daily oral medication
neutralized, the journal assured readers that Jack would have no
problem handling the demands of the presidency.
     The reality was, of course, different. Kennedy’s health remained
as uncertain as ever. Having gone from one medical problem to an-
other throughout his life, he believed his ongoing conditions were
no cause to think that he could not be president. But whether some-
one with adrenal, back, colon-stomach, and prostate difficulties
could function with high effectiveness under the sort of pressures a
president faced was a question that remained to be answered. True,
FDR had functioned brilliantly despite his paralysis, but he was
never on a combination of medicines like the one Kennedy relied on
to get through the day. When he ran for and won the presidency,
Kennedy was gambling that his health problems would not prevent
him from handling the job. By hiding the extent of his ailments, he
had denied voters the chance to decide whether they wanted to join
him in this bet.
     Kennedy’s hope was to return the center of decision to the Oval
Office, rather than let it remain in the hands of the subordinates
who were supposedly running Eisenhower’s government. But obvi-
ously he needed a cabinet, and selecting it was not simple. Appoint-
                      An Unfinished Life     #   301

ing prominent older men could revive campaign charges that Ken-
nedy was too young to take charge and needed experienced advisers
to run his administration. At the same time, however, Kennedy did
not want to create the impression that he would surround himself
with pushovers and ciphers who would not threaten his authority. He
wanted the most talented and accomplished people he could find,
and he was confident that he could make them serve his purposes.
    He also understood that his thin margin of victory gave him less
a mandate for fresh actions than a need to demonstrate lines of con-
tinuity with Eisenhower’s presidency. The margin convinced him
that it was essential to conciliate Republicans and indicate that as
president he would put the national interest above partisan politics.
    Indeed, Kennedy’s announcement of appointments two days
after the election suggested not new departures but consistency with
the past. At a dinner with liberal friends the day after the election,
Kennedy’s mention of the CIA and the FBI had brought pleas for
new directors and novel ways of thinking about Cold War dangers.
To his friends’ surprise, the next morning he announced that Allen
Dulles and J. Edgar Hoover would continue to head the CIA and the
FBI, respectively. Kennedy hoped this would put Democrats on
notice that he would not be beholden to any party faction and
would make up his own mind about what would best serve the
country and his administration. (He may also have been guarding
against damaging leaks from Hoover about his private life. As Lyn-
don Johnson would later put it, better to keep Hoover inside the
tent pissing out than outside pissing in.)
    Four days later, Kennedy flew in a helicopter to Key Biscayne
to meet Nixon. When O’Donnell asked him what he would say to
Nixon, he replied, “I haven’t the slightest idea. Maybe I’ll ask him
how he won in Ohio.” The meeting had its intended symbolic value,
showing Kennedy as a statesman above the country’s political wars.
The New York Times reported Kennedy’s determination not to
exclude the Republicans from constructive contributions to his
administration, though Nixon himself would not be offered any for-
mal role. Nevertheless, Kennedy could not ignore their political dif-
ferences. O’Donnell recalled the conversation between Kennedy and
Nixon as neither interesting nor amusing. Nixon did most of the
talking. “It was just as well for all of us that he didn’t quite make it,”
Kennedy told O’Donnell on the return ride to Palm Beach. Nixon
did not reveal his Ohio strategy, Kennedy said later.
                   302   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

    In any case, the outgoing vice president was basically irrelevant;
relations with Eisenhower, however, were crucial to the transition
and coming assumption of power. Though election as the youngest
president and service as the oldest separated Kennedy and Eisen-
hower, the two were among the most attractive personalities ever
to occupy the White House. Ike’s famous grin and reassuring man-
ner and JFK’s charm and wit made them almost universally lik-
able. The “almost” certainly applied here: The two men did not have
high regard for each other. Kennedy viewed Ike as something of an
old fuddy-duddy, a sort of seventy-year-old fossil who was a “non-
president” more interested in running the White House by organiza-
tional charts than by using executive powers. In private, he was not
above making fun of Ike, mimicking him and calling him “that old
asshole.” Eisenhower privately reciprocated the contempt, sometimes
intentionally mispronouncing Kennedy’s name and referring to the
forty-three-year-old as “Little Boy Blue” and “that young whipper-
snapper.” Ike saw the Kennedys as arrivistes and Jack as more
celebrity than serious public servant, someone who had done little
more than spend his father’s money to win political office, where, in
the House and Senate, he had served without distinction.
    Truman and Ike, whose differences in the 1952 campaign had
carried over into the postelection transfer of power, had only one
twenty-minute meeting at the White House, which was formal and
unfriendly. Kennedy was eager to avoid a comparable exchange,
so he seized upon an invitation to consult with Eisenhower at the
White House in December. “I was anxious to see E[isenhower],”
Kennedy recorded. “Because it would serve a specific purpose in
reassuring the public as to the harmony of the transition. Therefore
strengthening our hands.”
    At an initial meeting on December 6, Kennedy wanted to discuss
organizational matters, “the present national security setup, organi-
zation within the White House . . . [and] Pentagon organization.”
Kennedy also listed as topics for discussion: “Berlin — Far East
(Communist China, Formosa) — Cuba, [and] De Gaulle, Adenauer
and MacMillan: President Eisenhower’s opinion and evaluation of
these men.” Above all, Kennedy wanted “to avoid direct involvement
in action taken by the outgoing Administration.” Yet despite his
reluctance to enter into policy discussions, he prepared for the meet-
ing by reading extensively on seven foreign policy issues Ike had sug-
gested they review: “NATO Nuclear Sharing, Laos, The Congo, Algeria,
                     An Unfinished Life    #   303

Disarmament [and] Nuclear test suspension negotiations, Cuba and
Latin America, U.S. balance of payments and the gold outflow.”
Only one domestic topic made Eisenhower’s list: “The need for a
balanced budget.”
     The meeting began with an outward display of cordiality by
both men at the north portico of the White House, where the presi-
dent greeted his successor before press photographers and the
marine band played “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Kennedy, eager
to use his youth and vigor to rekindle public hope, stepped from his
car before it had come to a full stop and rushed forward alone to
shake hands before the president could remove his hat or extend his
hand. It perfectly symbolized the changing of the guard.
     During the meeting, which lasted over an hour, longer than
anticipated, Eisenhower did most of the talking. It was by far the
most time Kennedy had ever spent with Eisenhower. Jack found
much of Ike’s discourse unenlightening, later describing the presi-
dent to Bobby as ponderous and poorly informed about subjects
he should have mastered. He did not appreciate Ike’s advice that
he “avoid any reorganization before he himself could become well
acquainted with the problem.” But he also came away from the
meeting with a heightened appreciation of Ike’s appeal and a more
intimate realization that Eisenhower’s political success rested on the
force and effectiveness of his personality.
     Eisenhower was more impressed with Kennedy. He saw greater
substance to the man than he had formerly. Kennedy convinced him
that he was “a serious, earnest seeker for information and the impli-
cation was that he will give full consideration to the facts and sug-
gestions we presented.” (Jack had obviously done an effective job
of masking his limited regard for the president’s presentation of
issues.) Eisenhower had some reservations: He believed that Ken-
nedy was a bit naive in thinking that he could master issues by sim-
ply putting the right men in place around him. Despite this concern,
Ike sent word to Washington attorney Clark Clifford, the head of
Kennedy’s transition team, that he had been “misinformed and mis-
taken about this young man. He’s one of the ablest, brightest minds
I’ve ever come across.”
     Ten weeks after his election, Kennedy had a clearer idea of prior-
ities, and he requested another meeting with Eisenhower. His prin-
cipal worries, he said, in order of importance, were Laos, the Congo,
Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Berlin, nuclear test talks and
                   304   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

disarmament, Algeria, “an appraisal of limited war requirements vs.
limited war capabilities,” and “basic economic, fiscal, and monetary
policies.” Eisenhower declared himself ready to discuss any of these
topics in a “larger meeting,” but he wanted to talk with Kennedy
alone about presidential actions in a defense emergency, particularly
authorization of the use of atomic weapons, and covert or “special
operations, including intelligence activities.”
    In their private meeting, which lasted forty-five minutes, Ike,
who looked “very fit, pink cheeked,” and seemed “unharassed,”
reviewed the emergency procedures for response to “an immediate
attack.” It was one expression of current fears about a Soviet nuclear
assault, even if, as Eisenhower knew, Moscow lacked the where-
withal to strike successfully against the United States. The prevailing
wisdom, after the horrors of World War II and Soviet repression in
the USSR and Eastern Europe, was that fanatical communists were
capable of terrifying acts, especially against Western Europe, which
Western political leaders would be irresponsible to ignore.
    Kennedy marveled at Eisenhower’s sangfroid in discussing
nuclear conflict. Ike assured Kennedy that the United States enjoyed
an invulnerable advantage over Moscow in nuclear submarines armed
with Polaris missiles, which could reach the Soviet Union from
undetectable positions in various oceans. He seemed to take special
pleasure in showing Kennedy how quickly a helicopter could whisk
him to safety from the White House in case of a nuclear attack. With
evident glee at a president’s military mastery, Ike said, “Watch this,”
and instructed a military aide on the telephone: “Opal Drill Three.”
The marine helicopter that landed almost at once on the White
House lawn brought a smile of approval to JFK’s face as well.
    But Kennedy’s main focus remained on Laos. A three-sided civil
war between Pathet Lao communists, pro-Western royalists, and
neutralists presented the possibility of communist control in Laos
and, by extension, the loss of all Southeast Asia. As Kennedy noted
in a later memo, “I was anxious to get some commitment from the
outgoing administration as to how they would deal with Laos,
which they were handing to us. I thought particularly it would be
helpful to have some idea as to how prepared they were for military
    Speaking for the president, Eisenhower’s secretaries of state and
defense urged a commitment to block communist control of Laos.
They saw the Soviet bloc testing the unity and strength of Western
                     An Unfinished Life   #   305

intentions. They believed that the communists would avoid a major
war in the region but that they would “continue to make trouble
right up to that point.” They described Laos as “the cork in the
bottle. If Laos fell, then Thailand, the Philippines,” and even Chiang
Kai-shek’s Nationalist regime on Formosa would go. Eisenhower
himself favored unilateral intervention if America’s allies would not
follow its lead, predicting that Cambodia and South Vietnam would
also be victims unless the United States countered communist
aggression in Southeast Asia. He also advised against a coalition gov-
ernment in Laos: “Any time you permit Communists to have a part
in the government of such a nation, they end up in control.”
Kennedy was not happy at the prospect of having to send American
forces into Laos as the first major action of his term. “Whatever’s
going to happen in Laos,” he had said to Sorensen before the Janu-
ary meeting, “an American invasion, a Communist victory or what-
ever, I wish it would happen before we take over and get blamed for
it.” Despite his bold talk, Eisenhower was reluctant to intervene, and
there was no chance he would act in the closing days of his term.
     By contrast with Laos, Cuba barely registered as an immediate
worry. Eisenhower advised Kennedy that he was helping anti-Castro
guerrilla forces to the utmost and that the United States was cur-
rently training such a group in Guatemala. “In the long run the
United States cannot allow the Castro Government to continue to
exist in Cuba,” Eisenhower said. None of this, however, was news to
Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy had received a memo as early as August
1960, which Jack’s friend Florida senator George Smathers warmly
endorsed, recommending that the U.S. government encourage for-
mation of “a respectable government-in-exile” to replace Castro.
Moreover, by October, Bobby knew that Cuban exiles in Miami were
describing “an invasion fever in Guatemala” but that they felt them-
selves “being rushed into it and that they are not yet equipped for
it.” Bobby was also advised that “this invasion story is in the open.”
The fact, however, that no action seemed imminent put the Castro
problem lower on Kennedy’s list of worries than Laos, and in his
memo of the conversation with the president, Jack made no men-
tion of Cuba.
     In preparing for power, Kennedy wanted to ensure that he not be
the captive of any group or individual. As the youngest man ever
elected to the presidency, he anticipated dealing with more expe-
rienced Washington hands who would see his youth as a reason to
                   306   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

assert their authority over him. He did not view potential appointees
and advisers as intent on maliciously weakening his control but as
forceful men accustomed to leading and eager to help an untested
Chief Executive burdened with unprecedented responsibilities. His
concern to ensure his authority registered clearly on Schlesinger, to
whom he spoke repeatedly about Franklin Roosevelt’s “capacity to
dominate a sprawling government filled with strong men eager to go
into business on their own.”
    Kennedy’s determination to maintain control of organizational,
procedural, and substantive matters was evident even before he was
elected. In August, he had asked Clark Clifford to prepare transition
briefs. “If I am elected,” he said, “I don’t want to wake up on the
morning of November 9 and have to ask myself, ‘What in the world
do I do now?’ ”
    Clifford was the consummate Washington insider. Tall, hand-
some, silver haired, he looked more like a matinee idol than a savvy
attorney who had learned the inner workings of the White House as
an aide to Truman. Clifford had made political control into a fine art:
He greeted visitors to his office with a minute of silence and seeming
indifference to their presence while he searched through papers on
his desk. The visitor’s relief at being recognized gave Clifford the
upper hand he considered useful in a world of power brokers intent
on gaining any and every edge. For all his usefulness to Kennedy as
someone who could instruct the president-elect about the executive
bureaucracy and how to prepare for the takeover, Clifford also posed
a threat as someone who might leak stories to the press about his
dominant role in shaping the new administration. Jack joked that
Clifford wanted nothing for his services “except the right to advertise
the Clifford law firm on the back of the one-dollar bill.” Clifford did,
however, blunt some of Kennedy’s concerns by declaring himself
unavailable for any appointment in the administration.
    At the same time Kennedy invited Clifford to set an agenda for
the transition, he asked Richard Neustadt, a Columbia political sci-
entist who had recently published a widely praised book on presi-
dential power, to take on the same assignment. On September 15,
when Neustadt presented Kennedy with his memo on “Organizing
the Transition,” Jack took an instant liking to the tone and substance
of Neustadt’s advice: He counseled Kennedy against trying to repeat
FDR’s Hundred Days, which had little parallel with the circumstances
of 1961, and to settle instead on a presidential style that suited his
                      An Unfinished Life    #   307

particular needs. Kennedy disliked Clifford’s recommendation that
he “see Congressmen all day long. ‘I can’t stand that,’ ” he told
Neustadt. “Do I have to do that? What a waste of time.” Neustadt
replied: “ ‘Now, look, you cannot start off with the feeling that the
job must run you; that you have to do it this way because this is the
way Truman did it. We’ll just have to think of devices to spare you as
much of this as you don’t like. . . . We’ll have to use our ingenuity.’
He seemed relieved to be told what I am sure he hoped to hear,”
Neustadt recalled. Kennedy asked him to elaborate in additional
memos on a list of problems Neustadt expected to arise during the
transition. Kennedy instructed him “ ‘to get the material directly back
to me. I don’t want you to send it to anybody else.’ ‘How do you
want me to relate to Clark Clifford?’ ” Neustadt asked. “I don’t want
you to relate to Clark Clifford,” Kennedy answered. “I can’t afford to
confine myself to one set of advisers. If I did that, I would be on their
leading strings.”

BECAUSE KENNEDY THOUGHT in terms of people rather than struc-
ture or organization, his highest priority during the transition was to
find the right men — no women were considered for top positions —
to join his administration. Selecting a White House staff was little
problem. Since he intended to be his own chief of staff who issued
marching orders to subordinates, this eliminated the issue of elevat-
ing one close aide over others and making some of them unhappy.
It was obvious to Kennedy that the men who had worked with him
so long and so hard to build his Senate career and make him presi-
dent — Sorensen, O’Brien, O’Donnell, Powers, and Salinger — were
to become the White House insiders. Their occupancy of West Wing
offices near the president’s Oval Office and their access to Kennedy
without formal appointments signaled their importance in the
administration. “The President was remarkably accessible,” Sorensen
recalls. “O’Donnell and Salinger — and usually [McGeorge] Bundy
[special assistant to the president for national security affairs],
O’Brien and myself were in and out of the Oval Office several times
a day.” Each member of the Kennedy team had particular responsi-
bilities — O’Brien as legislative liaison, O’Donnell as appointments
secretary, Powers as a political man Friday, Salinger as press secretary,
and Sorensen as special assistant for programs and policies — but
none operated within narrow bounds, working instead on anything
and everything.
                   308   #   ROBERT     DALLEK

     Choosing other officials was much more difficult. “Jack has
asked me to organize [a] talent search for the top jobs,” Sargent
Shriver told Harris Wofford two days after the election. “The Cabi-
net, regulatory agencies, ambassadors, everything. We’re going to
comb the universities and professions, the civil rights movement,
business, labor, foundations and everywhere, to find the brightest
and best people possible.” Kennedy relished the idea of “appoint-
ing outstanding men to top posts in the government.” But it was not
easy to identify and convince the seventy-five or so individuals
needed for the cabinet and subcabinet to serve. As Jack told O’Don-
nell and Powers, “For the last four years I spent so much time getting
to know people who could help me get elected President that I
didn’t have any time to get to know people who could help me, after
I was elected, to be a good President.” In addition, some talented
people were not keen to interrupt successful careers to take on bur-
dens that might injure their reputations. And Kennedy saw some of
those eager for jobs as too self-serving or too ambitious to accept a
role as a team player devoted to an administration’s larger goals.
Kennedy also believed that his narrow electoral victory required him
to make other nonpartisan appointments like those of Dulles and
     During the course of discussions with potential cabinet appoin-
tees who modestly explained that they had no experience in the
office the president-elect wanted them to fill, Kennedy invariably
replied that he had no experience being president either. They
would, he explained with some levity, all learn on the job. His
response was partly meant to reassure future officials that he had
enough confidence in their native talents and past performance to
believe that they would serve his administration with distinction.
But he was also signaling his intention to keep policy commitments
to a minimum until he could assess immediate realities. Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. recalled that after Bobby had asked if he would like
to be an ambassador and Schlesinger replied that he would prefer
to be at the White House, Jack said to him: “ ‘So, Arthur, I hear you
are coming to the White House.’ ‘I am,’ ” Schlesinger replied. “ ‘What
will I be doing there?’ ‘I don’t know,’ ” Kennedy answered. “But you
can bet we will both be busy more than eight hours a day.” And
Schlesinger would be. He operated from the East Wing, which,
except for Schlesinger, was filled with peripheral administration offi-
cials who, in Sorensen’s words, “were regarded almost as inhabitants
                     An Unfinished Life   #   309

of another world.” Schlesinger, who would usually see the president
two or three times a week, would be the administration’s spokesman
to liberals at home and abroad as well as “a source of innovation,
ideas and occasional speeches on all topics.”
     Kennedy, remembering the wartime service of Republicans Henry
Stimson and Frank Knox in FDR’s cabinet, made clear to O’Donnell
that he would do something similar. “If I string along exclusively
with Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger and Seymour Harris and
those other Harvard liberals, they’ll fill Washington with wild-eyed
ADA people,” he said. “And if I listen to you and Powers and [John]
Bailey and [Dick] Maguire [at the DNC], we’ll have so many Irish
Catholics that we’ll have to organize a White House Knights of
Columbus Council. I can use a few smart Republicans. Anyway, we
need a Secretary of the Treasury who can call a few of those people
on Wall Street by their first names.”
     For Kennedy, the two most important cabinet appointments
were Treasury and Defense. Since he intended to keep tight control
over foreign policy, finding a secretary of state was a lower priority.
Help in managing the domestic economy and national security
came first. He wanted moderate Republicans for both posts who
could give him some political cover for the hard decisions a minor-
ity president would need to make to expand the economy and bol-
ster the national defense.
     Although Kennedy felt more comfortable addressing defense
and foreign policy issues, he knew that reinvigorating a sluggish
economy was essential to a successful administration. The country’s
substantial economic growth between 1946 and 1957 had ground to
a halt with a nine-month recession in 1957–58, when unemploy-
ment had increased to 7.5 percent, the highest level since the Great
Depression. Another economic downturn in 1960 had followed a
relatively weak recovery in 1958–59. As one economist explained
the problem, the backlogged demands of the war years had been
largely sated and the nation now faced a period of excess capacity
and higher unemployment. On top of these difficulties, an interna-
tional balance-of-payment deficit causing a “gold drain” had raised
questions about the soundness of the dollar. In these circumstances,
winning the confidence of businessmen, especially in the financial
community; labor unions; and middle-class consumers would be
something of a high-wire act that no one was sure the new, untested
president could perform.
                   310   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

     As a Democrat who could count on traditional backing from
labor and consumers, Kennedy felt compelled to pay special atten-
tion to skeptical bankers and business chiefs. But how was he to
quiet predictable liberal antagonism to a prominent representative
of Wall Street, who seemed likely to favor tax and monetary policies
serving big business rather than working-class citizens, in the Trea-
sury Department? Giving a Republican so much influence over eco-
nomic policy seemed certain to touch off an internal battle and
produce even greater damage to the administration’s standing in the
business community than the initial choice of a Democrat.
     Kennedy hoped to solve this problem by making Republican
Robert Lovett secretary of the treasury. A pillar of the New York
banking establishment, Lovett had intermittently served as a high
government official since World War II. His worldliness and track
record of putting country above partisanship moved Kennedy to
offer him State, Defense, or Treasury. But failing health, caused by a
bleeding ulcer, decided Lovett against accepting any office, and Ken-
nedy turned instead to C. Douglas Dillon. Dillon was an even more
imposing establishment figure: His father had founded the Wall
Street banking firm of Dillon, Read & Company. A privileged child,
Dillon had graduated from Groton, FDR’s alma mater, and Harvard,
and, with family apartments and homes in New York, New Jersey,
Washington, D.C., Maine, Florida, and France, he enjoyed connec-
tions with America’s wealthiest, most influential people. During
World War II, he had served in the southwest Pacific, where he had
won medals as a navy aviator. After the war, he had become chair-
man of Dillon, Read and of the New Jersey State Republican com-
mittee. His early support of Eisenhower had led to his appointment
as ambassador to France, where his effective service had persuaded
Ike to make him undersecretary of state for economic affairs and
then the undersecretary, the second-highest State Department offi-
cial. Dillon impressed populists like Tennessee senator Albert Gore
as an enemy of the people, but in fact he was an open-minded mod-
erate, a liberal Republican whom Kennedy believed he could trust.
     Dillon had to be persuaded to accept. Eisenhower warned him
against taking the job, urging a written commitment to a free hand
lest Kennedy give him no more than symbolic authority. But
although Kennedy promised to do nothing affecting the economy
without Dillon’s recommendation, he refused to give him any writ-
ten pledge, saying, “A President can’t enter into treaties with cabinet
members.” Kennedy extracted a commitment from Dillon, however,
                     An Unfinished Life   #   311

that if he resigned, it would be “in a peaceful, happy fashion and
wouldn’t indicate directly or indirectly that he was disturbed about
what President Kennedy and the administration were doing.”
     For both economic and political considerations, Kennedy felt he
had to balance Dillon’s appointment with a Council of Economic
Advisers (CEA) made up of innovative liberal Keynesians who would
favor bold proposals for stimulating the economy and would con-
vince Democrats that he was not partial to Eisenhower’s cautious
policies. Although he told Dillon that he was appointing the Keynes-
ians for strictly political reasons, Kennedy truly wanted them as a
prod to more advanced thinking and a way to educate the public
and himself. As he freely admitted, he was unschooled in econom-
ics, telling everyone that he had received a C in freshman economics
at Harvard (in fact, it was a B) and could not remember much, if
anything, from the course.
     Walter Heller was a University of Minnesota economics profes-
sor whom Kennedy had met during the campaign through Hubert
Humphrey. At his first session with Heller, Kennedy asked him four
questions: Could government action achieve a 5 percent growth
rate? Was accelerated depreciation likely to increase investment?
Why had high interest rates not inhibited German economic expan-
sion? And could a tax cut be an important economic stimulus?
Heller’s replies were so succinct and literate that Kennedy decided to
make him chairman of the CEA. During a December meeting, Ken-
nedy told Heller, “I need you as a counterweight to Dillon. He will
have conservative leanings, and I know that you are a liberal.” Heller
wanted to know if Kennedy would ask for a tax cut and whether he
would have carte blanche to choose his CEA colleagues. Not now,
Kennedy said of the tax reduction, explaining he could not ask the
country for sacrifice at the same time he proposed lower taxes. The
answer to the second question was yes. Heller also had the advan-
tage of not being from the Ivy League or the Northeast, as James
Tobin and Kermit Gordon, the other economists Heller asked to
have as council colleagues, were. Kennedy was not well schooled
in economics and found much of the theory mystifying, but he had
a keen feel for who had the essential combination of economic
knowledge and political common sense vital to successful manage-
ment of the economy.
     Finding a defense secretary who could ease the political and
national security concerns of Democrats and Republicans was a bit
easier than assembling an economic team. Liberals were not as
                   312    #   ROBERT      DALLEK

worried about the impact of a defense chief as they were about a
treasury secretary. Besides, with the deepening of the Cold War,
when the Soviet Union seemed to pose so grave a threat to the
nation’s future, partisanship had become less of a problem. Still,
Kennedy remembered the political pummeling the Democrats had
taken in the late forties and fifties over Yalta, China, and Korea, and
he knew that any misstep on defense could quickly become a politi-
cal liability. After all, he had made effective use of the missile gap in
his campaign and understood that if the opportunity presented itself
in the next four years, the Republicans would not hesitate to use a
defense failure against his reelection. He briefly considered reap-
pointing the incumbent Thomas Gates, but concluded that it would
open him to charges of political cynicism for having been so critical
of the administration’s defense policies during the campaign.
     A number of names came before him, but none as repeatedly
as that of Ford Motor Company president Robert S. McNamara, a
nominal Republican with impeccable credentials as a businessman
and service as an air force officer during World War II, when he
had increased the effectiveness of air power by applying a system of
statistical control. McNamara seemed to be on everybody’s list of
candidates for the job. Michigan Democrats, including United Auto
Workers officials, and principal members of the New York and
Washington establishments described him as an exceptionally intel-
ligent man with the independence, tough-mindedness, and, above
all, managerial skills to make the unwieldy Defense Department
more effective in serving the national security. “The talent scouts,”
McNamara biographer Deborah Shapley writes, “were delighted to
find a Republican businessman who had risen meteorically at Ford
and who was, at forty-four, only a year older than the president-
elect. . . . That a young Republican businessman could also be well
thought of by labor, be Harvard-trained, support the ACLU, and read
Teilhard de Chardin were all bonuses.”
     Without ever having met McNamara, Kennedy authorized Sar-
gent Shriver to offer him an appointment as secretary of the treasury
or secretary of defense. (Dillon had not yet been offered the Treasury
job.) When McNamara got a message that Shriver had called, he
asked his secretary who he was. (McNamara or his secretary, having
never heard of Shriver, wrote him on the calendar as “Mr. Shriber.”)
The offer of the Treasury job stunned McNamara, who turned it
down as something he wasn’t qualified to handle. He said the same
                     An Unfinished Life    #   313

about the Defense post but had enough interest to agree to come to
Washington to meet with Kennedy on the following day. McNamara
and Kennedy made positive impressions on each other. Neverthe-
less, McNamara continued to declare himself unqualified to head
the Defense Department. Kennedy countered with the assertion that
there was no school for defense secretaries or presidents.
     McNamara refused to commit himself at the first meeting but
promised to come back for a second conversation in a few days.
When he did, he gave Kennedy a letter asking assurances that he
could run his own department; could choose his subordinates,
meaning he would not have to agree to political appointees; and
would not have to participate in the capital’s social life. Bobby, who
sat in on the second meeting, said McNamara’s letter made it clear
that he “was going to run the Defense Department, that he was
going to be in charge; and although he’d clear things with the Presi-
dent, that political interests or favors couldn’t play a role.” He
recalled that his brother “was so impressed with the fact that
[McNamara] was so tough about it — and strong and stalwart. He
impressed him.” McNamara’s letter, Bobby felt, flabbergasted his
brother, but because Kennedy saw McNamara as so suited for the
job, he accepted his conditions. To pressure McNamara into offi-
cially accepting, Kennedy leaked his selection to the Washington Post,
which ran a front-page story. (“The Ship of State is the only ship that
often leaks at the top,” a Kennedy aide later said.) After McNamara
had accepted the appointment, he told Kennedy that after talking
over the job with Tom Gates, he believed he could handle it.
Kennedy teasingly responded in echo, “I talked over the presidency
with Eisenhower, and after hearing what it’s all about, I’m convinced
I can handle it.”
     After JFK’s election, many assumed that Kennedy would have to
choose Adlai Stevenson as his secretary of state. Stevenson remained
the party’s senior statesman and had established himself as an expert
on foreign policy. Although in January 1960, Kennedy had promised
to make Stevenson secretary of state if he supported his candidacy,
Stevenson’s failure to do so had nullified the proposal. After Ken-
nedy got the nomination, however, he encouraged Stevenson’s
ambition for the job by asking him to prepare a report on foreign
policy problems. This had some practical reasoning behind it —
Stevenson was, after all, experienced and knowledgeable about a
great deal — but was also somewhat petty and personal. Jack had
                   314   #   ROBERT      DALLEK

absolutely no intention of appointing Stevenson. “Fuck him,” Ken-
nedy said to Abe Ribicoff after the election. “I’m not going to give
him anything.” Kennedy remained angry at Stevenson for failing to
support his nomination, believed he was too equivocal to help make
tough foreign policy decisions, and worried that he “might forget
who’s the President and who’s the Secretary of State.” Kennedy
wanted no part of the arrangement that seemed to have made John
Foster Dulles the most important foreign policy decision maker in
Eisenhower’s administration.
     Liberal pressure to give Stevenson something, however, pushed
Kennedy to offer him a choice of three jobs: ambassador to Britain,
attorney general, or ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson
did not want to go to the U.K. or head the Justice Department, and
he felt humiliated at the idea of accepting the U.N., a post with no
real policy making authority, telling Bill Blair, “I will never be am-
bassador to the U.N.”
     In deciding on a secretary of state, Kennedy wanted to ensure
that the State Department would be under his control. He asked
John Sharon, who had worked with Stevenson on the foreign policy
report, for “ ‘a shit list’ — that was his word,” Sharon said, “— of
people in the state department who ought to be fired.” But before
he could get rid of department bureaucrats who might obstruct his
policies, he needed to decide on a cooperative secretary. Chester
Bowles, Harvard University dean McGeorge Bundy, and diplomat
David Bruce all received brief consideration, but Bowles was too ide-
alistic, Bundy too young and inexperienced, and Bruce too old for
the assignment.
     William Fulbright, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Com-
mittee, received more serious consideration. Kennedy knew Ful-
bright from their work together in the Senate and admired his
handling of the Foreign Relations Committee. Kennedy “thought he
had some brains and some sens